Following Dorset Art Weeks, or any major exhibition,  I usually lie fallow for a while taking stock, taking back my space and cogitating about where my creative life is heading next. 

The hot, hot summer of 2018 and the new inclusion of ‘graphic’ novels as Man Booker Prize candidates inspired me to create strong, bright and hot little abstracts making some of them into book covers containing my own graphic short stories of spontaneous calligraphy on hand made Himalaya papers and bound with colourful cotton threads.

Meanwhile, my Shaftesbury artist friends and I were meeting up for coffee, ‘outwith’ drawing sessions, as my old whiskey swilling first year tutor called what is now fashionably labelled ‘Plein Air’ drawing and much discussion about how we can attract more attention to local visual artists in Shaftesbury. A lightbulb moment produced the notion that we could hold monthly Art Fairs in the Town Hall if the rental of the space was affordable.

Well it is! 

My friend Karren Burkett and I booked four days at monthly intervals from September to December and drew up a list of artists who we would like to join us in the venture. Our criteria? That we both respect their art and that they are team players. The artists who have joined us are now called The Shaftesbury Group and all live and work within ten miles of Shaftesbury.

With roadsigns, posters in local independent shops, banners, social media promotion, local advertising and support from local media (This is Alfred, Tiggy Walker on Abbey 104 and Dorset Life Magazine) we hit the ground running with our first Art Fair in the Town Hall on 7th September. A footfall of 450 visitors and sales from artwork to ‘just a card’ for all fourteen artists was incredibly encouraging. The feedback from the local shops and the public about the ‘buzz’ we had created that day was amazing.  

The artists pay for a table top space (and promotion), creating their little exhibition within strict rules to make sure access and visibility is fair for all. Karren and I are self confessed benign dictators!

There are over twenty artists in our group which allows for them to dip in and out to allow for other commitments. As long as we have between twelve and sixteen we can break even. The organisation of this enterprise is not profit making for us. 

Several of us have also had exhibitions at Shaftesbury Arts Centre which have coincided with an Art Fair. For me that was at the start of December.

Perguadeo (rejoice) was a group exhibition that I curated with invited artists, Genny Lavers - printmaking, Anthea Parker - encaustic wax and mixed media, Mark Hilde - ceramic sculpture, Jinny Jehu - mixed media paintings, Lydia Needle - needlefelted bees, Yvette Canon - silver jewellery, and me.

I had decided to develop the experiments with Plaster of Paris that I had explored much earlier in the year.  I worked on a larger scale 40 x 40 cm being the largest and used plaster bandage as well as ready mixed Plaster of Paris on board that I had fixed to old stretcher frames to give some depth. The application with fingers and then scrapings of plaster was not initially planned in terms of composition, I let the materials guide me and gradually began to control the image with scraping and sanding. Adding colour in different ways began to give meaning to the work. Using wet acrylic soaked into the plaster, dyeing it, scuffing dry acrylic over the surfaces exposed the various textures. This was exciting and led me on to then emphasising particular deep crevices with colour. My collection for Perguadeo definitely rejoiced in creativity, which was the intention but the underlying meaning of the work was concerned with environmental changes, Assicco (drying out), Inundatio (flooding) and Conflatura (melting). 

The exhibition was very well received, but sales were sparse and ‘just a card’ were again the income that covered costs for most of us.

Reflecting on my growing collection of small works that suit the Art Fairs I have decided to upgrade my website so that I can sell small, affordable and easily posted  pantings and mixed media works. You can now buy directly from my Little Art Shop. I have also made a set of Art Vouchers which are available in three values online or for any amount if you see me at an exhibition, art fair or contact me directly. 

The coming year starts with a busy few months of exhibitions and the start of the next series of Art Fairs in Shaftesbury Town Hall on Good Friday 19 April. Check the Events page to see what I’m involved in. With one deadline met I am in the midst of a little Snowdrop piece and about to start experiments towards an exhibition with Victoria Garland and John Goodliffe. Busy and happy!

Experiments and Abstracts

Six months into 2018 and my work has been evolving. I made a decision to explore abstract ideas and make no conscious reference to the physical world. I began, in January, with experiments with thin but strong Himalaya papers, ink, acrylics and ballpoint pens. I made long 12cm wide strips of instinctive expressive marks in monochrome then added washes and infill of smaller marks. These strips were combined with weaving and folding resulting in a piece called Undulate which was the starting point for more than a dozen new works. I made two other combined strip pieces which were not worthy of a frame but had potential for development.  I was interested in the idea of panels within the space of a canvas like windows or stamps. Fields of colour were combined with expressive marks and shapes. I made use of the edge of offcuts of watercolour paper to print repeated patterns of short stripes that became slightly tribal in style on some paintings. 

Another direction was exploring instinctive doodle calligraphy, initially with Indian ink on card and then with acrylic paint on canvas. The former became greetings cards and each was decorated with stamp size torn patches of paper from the Undulate work. On the canvases I painted the equivalent of these stamps. making them translucent in imitation of the paper.  The instinctive doodle painting idea will be revisited later in the year. 

In amongst these projects I wanted to resolve my dissatisfaction with two large canvases I had exhibited in June 2017. Element Blue I and Element II were both over painted but I kept within the original palette and allowed small areas of each originals to show through or be saved. The results had positive reactions from visitors to my open studio at Dorset Art Weeks at the beginning of June.

I have also been exploring using Plaster of Paris scraped onto hardboard to create textured surface to paint. With some technical issues of paint peeling off self mixed powder, I have realised that it's worth paying a bit more for finer ready mixed filler or medium. I had to stop myself being fussy with image and pattern at the painting stage and recognise that the texture requires a more simple approach of blended colour. So far only one piece has been good enough to exhibit but I am prepared to work at this technique to become competent and able to create images that I am pleased with.

Lastly, for now, I want to mention how pleased and surprised I was to be awarded first prize in the People's Choice at the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival annual open exhibition in February. It is difficult coming up with a new approach to painting snowdrops year after year and this time I decided to do a 'blind' drawing by looking at the snowdrops but not the surface I was drawing on. This leads to a free and energetic style which was great fun to do. Another project to follow up? 

Have a look at the Gallery page 'New Work 2018' to see the finished pictures that have come out of this exploration. 


2017 Review

My art practice during 2017 saw me constantly working towards exhibitions and creating paintings to suit either the venue or the group I was exhibiting with. None of this was a problem for me in terms of creative reward but it did not take me out of my comfort zone. I wasn't stretched and I like to be stretched!

I explored images of the sea to exhibit at Whitestones Gallery and Cafe on Portland which I shared with Stephen Bithell (plein air landscape painter) and Darren Wheeler (woodturner and sculptor). Our work hung well together and I was happy to see some paintings find new homes.

I developed close observation of the patterns and surfaces of pebbles that I had started painting in 2016 and pushed them through a formula; first by 'unwrapping' the surfaces then enlarging parts of those studies to large abstract paintings that described the geology, elements and history of the Jurassic Coast .. and not a fossil to be seen! This work was shown at Shaftesbury Arts Centre with the ceramics of Jonathan Garratt, who I invited to share the space with me in June. The colours and mark making in our work worked was complementary.  In retrospect I see that some stages of the process were unnecessary or did not go far enough. 

Following swiftly on from this was my contribution to the exhibition 'Fifty Bees and the Interconnectedness of all things' coordinated by Lydia Needle at ACE Arts in Somerton. During the winter months I had explored and produced a choice of companion pieces to my assigned rare solitary bee, Hyleaus Incongruus! I learned so much about bees, spent a lot of time observing my bee's typical habitat down the lane  and making work about what interested me visually. I became attuned to the insects that pollinate on our meadows and hedgerows as Spring became Summer and this fed into paintings for the next exhibition.

DefinArtly was a group exhibition at Shaftesbury Arts Centre which I coordinated inviting painter - Karren Burkett, textile artist - Amanda House,and metal sculptor/blacksmith - Colleen du Pon. With an unwritten theme of landscape and nature, I developed work from the observations of hedgerows and meadows that I had been recording throughout the summer and produced paintings that were expressive and often bright and on the verge of abstract. It was a lively and complementary exhibition in November, attracting visitors thinking of Christmas presents. 

One of the visitors to the DefinArtly exhibition said to me that it looked as though I was on the brink of being an abstract artist and just needed to make that leap. So I have been thinking about that ...