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!