A YOUNG Cheshire woman has made a dream start to her fine art career having teamed up with an internationally renown artist to create a stunning mural at an historic Chester site.

Nantwich’s Annabelle Jane Buckley, 20, had only just learned she had passed her fine art degree at the University of Chester when she was told her tutor had recommended her to award-winning artist Gary Drostle.

London-based Mr Drostle, who has been working as a professional public artist for more than 20 years, has been commissioned by Chester Renaissance to paint a stunning mural on the back wall of Chester‘s Roman Amphitheatre.

And, even though she has yet to be officially awarded her degree, Annabelle says she grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Speaking during a break from working on the impressive mural – which is designed to give the illusion of a complete structure giving visitors an idea of how the complete amphitheatre would have looked in times gone by – Annabelle says she feels privileged to have been given the chance to contribute to the work of art.

She said: “I do feel so, so lucky. It’s an amazing project and in truth some artists never get the chance to work on something as big as this, never mind fresh from completing their degree.

“I have to thank my tutor, Chester University’s Head of Fine Art John Renshaw, as he recommended me to Gary Drostle. I rang Gary and a week later I was working on the project.

“The Keim paint we are using is guaranteed for a century and I know the mural will be here for a long, long time.

“Perhaps I will be able to bring my own grandchildren down years from now and show them what I, in a small way, helped create. That would be amazing.”

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Annabelle as she had to learn new techniques.

She explained: “This is so different to what I’m used to and I have had to learn from Gary and listen carefully to his instructions. He is a real perfectionist, I suppose all artists are.

“Even the Keim paint is so different to anything I have used before. My main interest is portraiture using oil on canvas. Of course with the mural we are using larger brushes and the paint reacts very differently.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity though and I have had the chance to quiz Gary on his experiences within the art world and learn something of the pit-falls I could face in my career.

“Ideally, I want to set up my own studio and in the future hold my own exhibitions. However, for now I am quite happy getting the bus from Nantwich to Chester every day to work with Gary on the mural. Once we finish the mural I am locking myself in the garage at home to get some portrait paintings done.

“This has been invaluable experience and I have learned so much, it has been an incredible privilege. I feel honoured and, even though my contribution has been small, at least it means an artist working on the mural was local, a Chester art student who hails from Cheshire.”

Gary Drostle, who arrived in Chester fresh from creating a $250,000 art installation for the University of Iowa in the United States, says he has been impressed with Annabelle.

He said: “It’s great to be able to call upon a Cheshire artist, a Chester University graduate to help me create this mural. Annabelle has been superb and has listened to instructions and carried them out with skill and exceptional talent.

“I would have no hesitation in asking her to assist on future projects. It’s not an easy technique, especially working to this scale.”

And Gary Drostle says it has been a unique opportunity creating a large mural in such a historic and prestigious location.

He added: “My aim was to transform the Chester Amphitheatre area, increasing it’s visibility and helping bring more attention to this fascinating site.

“I hope the mural will give visitors a feel for the original space of the Amphitheatre by recreating the ‘missing half’ of the arena and so reveal the true extent of this historic structure.

“I have worked closely with Chester Renaissance, Cheshire West and Chester Council, English Heritage and their teams of archaeologists to recreate a truthful and accurate impression of the Roman arena as it would have been.”

And he says he is amazed at the interest the mural has generated among visitors to the amphitheatre site.

He said: “So many people have stopped and asked questions and I have to say their comments have been very positive. Everyone, it seems, supports what we are trying to achieve. It’s been the most amazing place to work in.”

Chester Renaissance Chief Executive Rita Waters says she hopes the mural will be the Roman Amphitheatre’s crowning glory after an extensive regeneration project.

She said: “We are proud of the way in which the amphitheatre has been transformed which has made a huge difference to the visitor experience. It is now a fantastic visitor attraction the whole city can too be proud of thanks to the partnership working of all of us.

“I am delighted with the mural Gary Drostle is producing and it is fantastic he has been able to call upon a Cheshire student, a new graduate of the University of Chester, to assist him.

“The mural will be here for people to enjoy for a lifetime and I believe it will really make the amphitheatre, which is itself a wonderful historical site, come alive for everyone.”