John Ronayne

John Ronayne ARCA FCSD

Two formative experiences shaped John’s career. At a very early age he was taken along to the National Gallery, where he became at once mystified and excited by the handling of landscape and light effects by masters such as Claude, Ruisdael, Turner, and Constable. Piles of art books were then borrowed from the local library, from which he traced and copied the Old Masters – a traditional apprenticeship – augmented by attending Saturday life-drawing classes.

Then at secondary school, the Art Room became John’s sanctuary – he was in there whenever possible, often outside of school hours. He volunteered as an early morning helper, because that gave him the opportunity to chat about art history with his inspirational teacher before the school day began. He soon became the go-to student for executing any large-scale backcloth scenery for school plays.

After schooldays, John’s undergraduate course was at Norwich School of Art. The college building overlooks the River Wensum, where the often chilly Norfolk mornings produced misty scenes reminiscent of classic Dutch landscape. He won a six-week bursary, joining a scientific expedition to the wilds of Greenland, for whom he acted as the field artist.

John was then accepted on a 3-year postgraduate place at the Royal College of Art, based, most fortunately, next door to the V&A Museum. He became intrigued by the collection of theatre design models with their painted illusions of landscape and weather, and even considered a career as a scenographer – he was once interviewed for Sadlers Wells – but with a growing family, he concluded he needed a more secure profession.

So he set up a business in museum exhibition design (see, where spatial effect and the manipulation of light are important. An early break came when the Museum asked him to design an exhibition about theatre, the centre-piece being a child-size Baroque stage. That was followed by a week’s public residency at the V&A, demonstrating the techniques of pictorial trompe l’oeil.

Having recruited a small staff, the RONAYNE:DESIGN office completed projects over the years for an prestigious list of clients; but alongside this, John found time to continue painting, both for its own sake, and occasionally for reward. Among other pursuits, he researched and specified the painted decorative scheme for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on Bankside. Observational drawing, particularly cutaway views of architecture, brought him published commissions for English Heritage and others (see

Finally having achieved his commercial career goals, John began to seek more time for his art practice, away from the managing of assistants and design projects. He wound down the design business but kept the office, converting it now into a spacious studio. Thus he made himself free to concentrate on his original interest and passion. The variety of his painted work can be seen at

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