I think I always knew that I wanted to paint. My father was a keen amateur artist and as a child he encouraged me to draw and paint. Art was always my favourite subject at school and I can still remember the exhilarating smell of the art room.
But I also wanted to stretch my mind and so I went to Exeter University to study Sociology. This led to a stimulating career, initially working as a consultant in qualitative market research which in the 1970’s was a new field and then running my own marketing consultancy. Bringing up my three sons and running my business left little time for hobbies!
It wasn’t until I turned 60 having sold my business and with my sons now living their own lives that I had space to go back to art. I started with watercolour and life drawing classes whilst at the same time experimenting with a whole range of different mediums. I wanted to learn more and be in an art environment and so I took a part-time Degree Course in Fine Art at the University for the Arts, Wimbledon.
Unfortunately, I became ill with chronic fatigue and very severe allergies and had to leave after completing only two years of the course. Looking back, I can see that I had exhausted myself and should have taken time to rest after selling the business. However, my body did it for me! I was ill and pretty much housebound for three years. Ironically my isolation allowed me to develop my art in a very individual way. I had time to think and time to play.
Initially I could use only limited materials such as watercolours and pencils. Acrylic paints, oils and anything involving. turpentine and resins caused severe allergic reactions. As I slowly got better, I found materials which accommodated my sensitivities and I developed a non-toxic studio practice. I love working in oils and I really missed using them. Eventually I discovered that I could use Sennelier Oils which are mixed with safflower oil rather than linseed oil together with water-based oil paints which contain only limited amounts of linseed. Even low odour solvents were no good for me and so I use concentrated washing up liquid to clean my brushes.
Strangely my first exhibition with Surrey Artists Open Studios in June 2011 coincided with the graduate exhibitions of my art school class. I had taken a very different path to get to this point but had found my way of painting. Looking back, the Wimbledon fine art degree course was very conceptual and that wasn’t right for me. The two years I spent at college opened my mind to many different ways of making art and thinking about art but experimenting on my own, away from other influences, turned me into an artist.
I now work from my studios in Surrey and at our house in Devon and I donate the proceeds from the sale of my paintings to charity. Being able to do something I love and at the same time being able to contribute to causes that I care about is very fulfilling. My allergies are now manageable and I can now use other art materials. I still avoid solvents and keep my studio as free of toxic materials as possible. I teach art workshops and I love introducing people to the joy of painting. I have set up an art group – the Wildwood Artists – teaching and mentoring artists who want to develop their art practice and exhibit together. It is very rewarding to use the skills I learned in my business career to teach art, something I never imagined I would be able to do.
My paintings are abstract and my approach to painting is expressive. I paint from ‘inside out’, using my imagination and expressing my feelings and memories rather than painting in a literal way by observation or representing what I see in a realistic way. My painting is based on how I feel, tapping into my intuition and my reflections on what I see around me. I avoid having an ‘end game’ and allow the painting to develop one step at a time – the only important decision for me is the next one. Sometimes the painting comes together easily, sometimes it’s a struggle but I think painting this way keeps the work fresh and alive.
When you paint in this way the start points are very important. My inspirations and starting points are usually quite specific, usually something I have seen in the countryside close to home or on trips abroad. Although I don’t paint what I see literally, observation is very important to my art practice. Most often my camera is my sketch book but I also sketch and make comments on what I see, recording ideas for composition, shapes and colours.
Painting for me is similar to the improvisation of a jazz player: a kind of riffing and experimenting around an initial idea – in my case using colour, shape and texture. As in jazz, I also look for discordant elements because I find that they highlight the visual harmony. What I’m looking for is vibrant but subtle colour adjacencies and rich textures which evoke a feeling, a place, a moment in time in the landscape.
I love to create imaginative drawings using coloured pencils and marker pens but my art practice is centred on painting. My paintings are oils, mostly on canvas, sometimes on board or thick paper. I use oils because I like the flexibility which the slow drying gives me. Palette knives combined with big brushes allow me to achieve rich, thick textures and to keep the image unstructured. I combine these with spatulas and also sgrafitto cutting into the paint.
The traditional approach to oil painting is to start with thinned down washes of colour, blocking in the shapes, outlining the light, dark and mid tones and then steadily building up the image working with thicker and thicker paint. My process is very different. I use a coloured underpainting with acrylic paint. In many cases now I create an underlining layer of collage to build up a textured base. I then work straight on to the canvas with thick paint using wide brushes and palette knives. Each painting involves several stages, progressively building up the image. At each stage I may float a colour wash of thinned oil colour to deepen the sense of spatial depth and to bring the image into greater colour harmony without losing the vibrancy of the colours.
It is hard to explain when I know that I’m happy with a painting and it is ‘done’. Some paintings don’t reach this stage – these I store to come back to with new eyes another day. As a painting gets closer to being finished every change made affects the balance of the whole image. There is always the temptation to carry on but I have learned to trust my intuition and to stop when it feels right.
The ‘meaning’ of the work doesn’t really lie in what can be recognised, but rather in how a painting makes the viewer feel, the memories and images that the painting stimulates and the particular and personal emotional response that it evokes. As I am painting the painting develops ‘a life of its own’ and the meaning of the work evolves. Echoing the jazz analogy, I choose music tracks to name each painting, no longer just jazz but encompassing all contemporary music, rock, pop, blues, folk, country – whatever I feel captures the spirit of the work.
Since September 2017 I have been teaching a programme of workshops to a group of artists who are seeking to develop their art practice. The idea for the group was stimulated by one of my workshop students asking me if I would teach her on a one-to-one basis. I didn’t want to take on the commitment of a formal art training programme. In addition, I feel strongly that art is better taught in a group of people, which allows for cross- fertilization of ideas. The seed was sown to bring together a group of people from my workshops, all of whom are talented and enthusiastic about their art, into an informal and flexible programme of art teaching.
The group comes to my studio in Wildwood for workshops following an evolving programme of subjects encompassing the theory and practise of painting. Several of the students have been to art school but left feeling dissatisfied at the level of training they received in the basic skills of art practice such as for example understanding colour, guidelines for composition, how to approach abstraction. Art schools today take very conceptual approach in order to encourage creative thinking and new ways of thinking about art. This is a great aspiration but students often
leave without the practical skills to develop a professional art practice. Others in the group are keen amateur artists now looking to develop their art in a professional way.
- To provide a stimulating environment and a programme of art learning – art concepts, skills and practices
- To enable those in the group to find their ‘style’ of making art and help them to develop it
- To introduce and experiment with a wide range of art mediums and materials
- To learn from other artists, contemporary and historical, famous and not so famous
- To put together exhibitions of work created by the group as.
I am an abstract artist and I paint expressively. The teaching is therefore set in the context of abstract art with an emphasis upon drawing and painting expressively and with imagination. But this encompasses a very broad spectrum, across abstraction to semi abstraction and expressive figurative painting.
In the workshops we have explored in depth the pictorial elements such as line, shape and form, rhythm, spatial depth. We have looked at colour in different ways with workshops focusing on particular hues together with sessions exploring colour principles. Workshops to date have included;
- Drawing and Mark Making
- Shape, Space and Spatial depth
- Composition 1
- Composition 2
- Exploring colour – Blues
- Exploring colour – Violets
- Exploring colour – Reds
- The Power of Colour
- Colour: Value and Saturation
- Painting with Emotion
Wildwood Artists are holding their first exhibition, “Abstract Rhythms” this autumn – October 15 th to 27 th – in the Roberts Philip Gallery at Riverhouse Barn, Walton upon Thames.
Tujatane Trust School (£32,500 raised so far) – I have been supporting Tujatane Trust School in Zambia for many years sponsoring children at the school. The school was set up in 1996 by Vanessa Parker, wife of the owner of Tongabezi Lodge on the Zambezi river, to educate her children and the children of the staff. A teacher before her move to Africa, Vanessa quickly realised that the children from poor families in the surrounding villages had no access to schooling. The school has steadily grown in size and stature, now schooling nearly 300 underprivileged children up to age 15. When I again visited in 2016 they had recently built an Art and Craft classroom but they had no art teacher and only very limited art supplies. Since then I have sponsored and mentored the art teacher and provided art materials to create a visual arts programme for the children. We are now running art competitions each term with certificates and prizes to motivate and inspire the children.
Textile crafts have become part of that programme involving women in the local community and we the opportunity to build a Textile Centre for the children at the school and adults in the area. Generous donations and funds raised by myself and glass maker Adam Aaronson in the recent “Shape of Colour” exhibition mean that we have the funds to start building the centre but we need more to complete it, equip it, supply it with materials and pay for teachers.
For more information go to their website www.tujatane.com.
Home-Start Guildford (£11,500 raised so far) – A fantastic charity local to me, which addresses a very real need close to home. Home-Start supports families who are finding it hard to cope and who are exhausted or overwhelmed by the challenges of family life. They may not be coping due to post-natal depression, isolation, illness or disability, multiple births, bereavement, abuse, family breakdown … or any other situation life throws at them! Home-Start’s trained parent volunteers give them the help they need to get back on track and give their child the best possible start in life.
I am now a patron of Home-Start Guildford. For more information go to www.hsguildford.org.uk
The Art Room (£5,895 raised) – which provides art therapy spaces for 5 to 16 year olds who are experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties.
Challengers Guildford (£6,500 raised) – dedicated to providing exciting and challenging play and leisure opportunities for disabled children and young adults.
The Eve Appeal (£8,325 raised) – supporting the better detection and treatment of Gynaecological cancers through awareness and research.