On cue at the Crucible: The art of snooker

Snooker artist Lynn Medlicott with one of her paintings  of John Higgins at the Crucible theatre Sheffield
Snooker artist Lynn Medlicott with one of her paintings of John Higgins at the Crucible theatre Sheffield
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At the climax of the World Snooker Championships this weekend, Lynn Medlicott will be busy behind the scenes. But she is also working to transfer life from the green baize onto canvas. Richard Hercock reports.

The new world snooker champion crowned on Monday will receive plenty of media attention over the coming 12 months. But one caller the champion may not be able to turn away is artist Lynn Medlicott.

Lynn Medlicott and her paintings

Lynn Medlicott and her paintings

She has been involved behind the scenes at the Crucible and around the country on the snooker circuit for more than 25 years, putting her on friendly terms with all the stars and officials.

It means that some of snooker’s biggest names, including Ronnie O’Sullivan and world champion John Higgins have been happy to sit for her for their portraits.

The snooker connection came about by chance. “I was working in events and was asked to go and do promotions at the Mercantile Credit Classic in Warrington,” says Lynn.

“We started on programmes and it just went from there. We would do anything from booking the courtesy cars to booking practice times, manning the front desk, registering all the media, organising passes, co-ordinating staff. Just making sure things tick over.

“People like Stephen Hendry were just little lads. I have seen them grow up, get married and have families. Steve Davis is the same age as me and I have seen his career develop over the years.

“It’s a close-knit community in snooker and you see the same friendly faces at the Crucible every year. Everyone really gets geared up, it is the event of the year. It’s good to see old faces, but having been involved for so long, over the years I have seen some of the good old characters disappear.

“It’s not an urgency to paint necessarily but it would have been nice to catch some of the old characters – a lot of the famous referees like John Street, John Smyth and Len Ganley.”

Alex Higgins is a star she also misses. “When a tournament was on and Alex was playing it was buzzing. He had such an amazing face and I would also love to paint Jimmy White.

“Ronnie (O’Sullivan) has that similar buzz. I painted Ronnie last year and he really liked it, he thought it was good. That went to auction at the annual awards dinner. It seems I am getting into a groove of painting the finalists and it being auctioned off for a good cause.”

This month her painting of John Higgins holding the Betfred.com World Championship trophy will be auctioned off at the World Snooker Annual Awards Dinner at the Dorchester in London to raise funds for their appointed charity Haven House Children’s Hospice.

Lynn studied at art school and then completed a fashion design course in Manchester, which led her to freelance event management and design. “Although it can be long days at the Crucible, with some games running on into the early hours, there is always down time where I can find a quiet corner and do some sketching and work on ideas for my next painting.”

The female side of the snookers scene has attracted Lynn’s recent interest including Michaela Tabb, the sport’s first professional referee who will officiate at this weekend’s final, and BBC sports presenter Hazel Irvine, television’s face of snooker.

“Both spend many hours on the snooker circuit, especially at the Crucible. They were happy to let me take photographs of them for my work. Although I use my photographs as the main reference for my portraits, it is so much easier to achieve a likeness when you have been able to spend some time with them and get to know their character and their mannerisms.

“With all my portraits I try to capture the person in their familiar working environment and at a particular moment in time. It was important with the portrait of Michaela to give the impression of her commanding the space around the table and in control, as she is during a match, and yet also to capture her femininity. Painting her in near profile gave me the chance to show her beautiful shaped face with wonderful dark eyes.

“A photograph I had taken in the Winter Garden studio set at Sheffield last year was my starting point for Hazel’s painting. I wanted to keep the composition compact and opted for a square canvas with the subject filling the space. The chair and background glass have been kept simple, yet typical of Hazel’s working studio set. The limited colours are cool but rich and work together to highlight her striking eyes.

“I enjoyed working on these two portraits and it was good to paint some of the feminine faces of snooker.

“I tend to work on a couple of pieces at a time because you will go into the studio, start painting, get on a roll, think ‘yeah, that’s looking good’, and it’s all coming together and then you just have to walk away from it and get it wrong. So I might leave it for a couple of days, work on something else, and come back to it.”

Away from snooker, Lynn likes to retreat to the rural life in Northumberland. “I have a dog called Salty C Dog, who is a great inspiration. I just love walks on the beach with my dog. It’s a complete contrast to being kenelled in an event for two or three weeks. It’s nice to get out in the fresh air and it is my inspiration for colours.

“I do enjoy my snooker, but when you have done so many years of it and spent so many hours at these venues, there’s so many other things in my life that I am interested in I wouldn’t want to dash off in my spare time and go and watch snooker.

“Over the years I have had some really enjoyable times at the snooker and some fantastic memories of people that have played.” In Sheffield Lynn got to know Jack Russell, the former England and Gloucestershire wicketkeeper, who has become the foremost painter of cricket scenes. “I met him as he worked on his painting of the interior of the Crucible.” She has also met here the man reported to be world’s wealthiest artist. “Damien Hirst loves to come and watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play. So we may be seeing some reinterpretation of a snooker related installation in the future.”

There’s also the former Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood, a musician who also fancies himself as an artist. “Ronnie Wood is becoming more involved with snooker events with his friend Jimmy White. He cast an eye over my portrait of Ronnie O’Sullivan and gave the approving nod.

“Now Ronnie Wood has a wonderful character face I would love to paint.”