Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014

Saffron Walden Open Studios

For the second year, I’ll be taking part in Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014.

I will be opening my studio at 19 Church Close, Whittlesford CB22 4NY for the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. And there will be cake in the garden in aid of Care for Casualties. It’s a bit early for our garden to be in full bloom and I’d love you to visit us if you are around that weekend. (If you’re a garden fan and would prefer to visit later in the summer, I will be taking part in the first and last weekends of Cambridge Open Studios in July as well.)

Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014

The studio and garden will be open from 11am to 6pm on both weekends. I will be exhibiting a range of watercolour paintings, both framed and unframed. In addition to my full size works, my Running With Brushes paintings will be available to view. And for those who are interested in limited edition fine art prints, there will be an opportunity to view some of the range, and order prints for delivery within a week.
The Saffron Walden Arts Trust is a charitable organisation which coordinates, encourages and promotes artistic enterprises of all kinds in the Saffron Walden area. The trust provides practical support to local artists and performers to help them display their talents, with initiatives such as music festivals and craft fairs as well as open studio events.

The open studio events provide visitors with the opportunity to see the work of local artists by visiting their studios. Visitors can talk to the artists about their methods, influences and approaches to their art. I was only open for one of the two Open Studios weekends last year. Even so, I met some wonderful art lovers and had some great conversations. I am looking forward to the Saffron Walden Open Studios 2014 weekends this summer.

Washing Girls meet up again (in Cambridge)

Last week this time we were coming to the end of a fabulous long weekend with fellow Washing Girl, Olivia Quintin, her husband Alain and their 14 year old daughter, Elyse. I recognised Elyse instantly from having seen Olivia’s portraits of her.

Olivia and Alain 1


For those of my blog readers who don’t know the history, the term ‘Washing Girls’ was first coined by Olivia and refers to the seven artists who took part in the 100 Wash Challenge, an online project to get each of us posting 100 watercolour washes online with notes. We had a year in which to achieve this.  It was both an amazing learning experience, and a great way to make friends with other artists.

Almost exactly a year ago, we travelled to Vannes to meet Olivia. At the time, I had no idea whether we would like each other, but we had spent so much time having virtual chats over the 100 washes, that I wanted to meet her. I said at the time that I wanted to meet all of the other artists but so far, life has got in a way a bit and I’ve only managed to get together to Olivia. (So, who is next, girls? Maggie, Theresa, Christy, Suzanne, Jane?)

I get a bit over-excited when we have visitors who have never seen Cambridge. I love the richness of the history in this place so I am always happy to play unofficial tour guide and take them on a walking tour of the city.  That was Friday’s focus. We did the classic Cambridge sites (and sights): The Backs, the whale at the University Zoology Museum, a wander down Old School Lane and then Trinity Street to have a look at the colleges. The Eagle pub and Kings College Chapel, and finally, a punt down the Cam to see the back views of all colleges while our young punter, Sam, told us all the snippets and anecdotes about the buildings as we glided past on the water.

Punting on the Cam
Punting on the Cam

And then of course for the rest of the weekend we ate and we painted (and ate and painted, and ate and painted) – not necessarily at the same time.  There were English meals (Roast lamb with mint, and full English breakfast), and a slap up South African braai (has to be done in our house). And there was painting in the garden and then down at the river. Our house is at the edge of the village and we are lucky to have a footpath that goes virtually from our back garden, alongside the churchyard, down through the trees, across the field and to the river. It’s a great place to take a short walk, and Alain and Olivia spent some time working on paintings down there. They found the bench at the riverside and painted the view: that electricity housing has never looked quite so charming as it does now.

Electricity by Alain Fortier (pastel 10 x 8 inch)
Electricity by Alain Fortier (pastel 10 x 8 inch)


Electricity by Olivia Quinton (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)
Electricity by Olivia Quinton (watercolour 6 x 4 inches)

Olivia painted up a storm for Running With Brushes. She created 10 paintings for the charity while she was with us, helping us get closer to  the first 100 mark which should happen today. It’s brilliant to have such support and enthusiasm for the project from friends. We loved having time with Alain, Olivia and Elyse (who is a fantastic assistant in the kitchen).

Et maintenant, nous pratiquons parler français. Parce que  Septembre prochain, nous allons visiter Belle-Ile avec Olivia et Alain pour une semaine de peinture.

Two Gardens: Monet’s Garden in pictures

I can’t imagine there are many people in Europe who’ve not heard of Monet’s garden at Giverny. In fact, I can’t imagine there are many garden lovers or art lovers in the world who don’t know about his house and garden.  In the 17 years I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve heard many.many accolades for the garden and can’t recall one person who has felt disappointed in the visit.

We decided to take advantage of the morning of our drive back from Paris and swing past Giverny to visit the garden. Opening time is 9.30 am. We arrived at 9.45 am and were pleased to see many free spaces in the car park. Even so, when we got to the entrance the queue was already pretty daunting.

Expect to queue if you're not an early bird at Giverny
Expect to queue if you’re not an early bird at Giverny

It wasn’t quite as bad as it looks – we only had to wait for 20 minutes to get into the garden. Once inside, it was clear that it was well worth the wait – the garden in June is truly breathtaking. The density of the planting, the intensity of the blossoms, and the colour combinations in the planting plan, all come together to create an unforgettable visit.

Giverny’s gardeners have found some wonderful plants, producing displays of spectacular colours, sizes and scents.

Monet's rose in full bloom
Monet’s rose in full bloom
Perfection in a poppy
Perfection in a poppy
Cornflower blue
Cornflower blue
Gigantic red poppies
Gigantic red poppies

The famous lily pond, across the road, wasn’t at all serene – it was alive with very raucous residents who made their presence obvious.

Lily pond resident
Lily pond resident

Wandering back under the road, we headed for the famous pink house.

Monet's house fronted with colourful geranium beds
Monet’s house fronted with colourful geranium beds

Once inside, the real wonder is the density of paintings on the walls by Monet himself, by Manet, by Renoir, by Cezanne. These were all artists of the same era who left their distinct marks on the art world. To see their work grouped together, not in a gallery, but in the home of one of their contemporaries, is an experience that feels very personal. You almost feel that Monet could be sitting in his bright yellow kitchen, sharing a cuppa (or perhaps un cafe) with his talented friends. His extensive collection of Japanese artwork fills the walls of two or three rooms too. I gathered from my sister (who studied these things, so is rather like my personal art encyclopedia), tells me that Japanese paintings were seen as quite revolutionary in their composition. Previously, western artists had ensured that all the key figures in a painting were fully depicted within the painting. Japanese works were far more like a current day snapshop with people and articles appearing to be entering or exiting the painting, with only part of their form in view.  (Did I get that right, Sis?) His love of Japanese form extends into the lily garden where his Japanese bridges at either end of the water provide access, look out points, and painting subjects.

View from Monet's bedroom
View from Monet’s bedroom

If you were Monet, and opened your bedroom shutters every morning to see this view (without the tourists, of course), wouldn’t you just want to grab a brush and start painting?

Two Gardens – Versailles

I’ve been back from Paris for a few days now and not had time to post about our last two days there. They were both very special in slightly different ways.

I’ve called this post Two Gardens because we visited two gardens on our last days in Paris – possibly so that we could walk for miles instead of cycling. It felt better using a different set of muscles. But also because Versailles is rather like two gardens in one. (I will post about the other garden, Giverny, tomorrow).

On Saturday afternoon we drove down to Versailles. I do think that often the trick with getting the most out of these places is to do a bit of research and if possible, avoid the crowds. The main entrance is a coach parking lot – there are just thousands of people. As we only had a few hours we decided to cut round the side of the grounds and find parking alongside one of the gates into the park (which is free entrance and open to all). In my opinion, the park is the best aspect of Versailles. The juxtaposition of open meadowland and formally cut lines of trees is wonderfully done. There’s a wonderful sense of scale in the use of trees as hedges – they seem to go up for miles.

Versaille: Hedges made from Trees, and walkways that go to the horizon.
Versaille: Hedges made from Trees, and walkways that go to the horizon.

If you’re not that concerned about seeing the grand palace of Versailles, then do what we did and head directly to the bottom of the garden to see the two summer houses – Grand Trianon, built by Louise XIV, and Petit Trianon, built by Louis XV. Both were built with the same purpose as places where they could escape and relax from the strict etiquette of the palace, and places where they could spend time with their current mistress.

Grand Trianon is more the more formal of the two, with traditional French gardens and standard stately home decor. It is indeed grand and memorable, clad as it is in pink marble. The cost of building this little summer house must have been enormous!

Grand Trianon's approach is impressive and very pink.
Grand Trianon’s approach is impressive and very pink.

From the covered walkway, the garden lies like a carpet of geometric flower beds, lawns and pathways.

Grand Trianon garden is laid out like a geometric carpet of flowers, lawn and pathways.
Grand Trianon garden is laid out like a geometric carpet of flowers, lawn and pathways.

If this is your thing, it’s an impressive view. I must say here, that this is the Trianon that I favour less. For me, the relative simplicity of Petit Trianon, and lushness of it’s garden are far more enjoyable.

The first thing you encounter as you enter Petit Trianon is a courtyard surrounded by covered walkways leading to the house chapel, a wonderfully light space with a sense of great tranquility.

The cloisters at Petit Trianon - a charming place
The cloisters at Petit Trianon – a charming place


The interior of the building has some charming surprises – an impressive staircase, sumptuous footman uniforms, and innovative panels that slide up from the ground floor to screen first floor windows. The garden is a rambling parkland filled with heady scented blooms. If you wander far enough through the gardens, the jewel in the Petit Trianon crown emerges: Hameau de la Reine, a little hamlet built for Marie Antoinette in 1783. It’s a cross between Disney and Hobbiton.  The buildings include the queen’s Boudoir, a dairy, a dove house, a gardeners cottage and a tower. Words are inadequate to describe this place so I’m going to finish my descfription of Petit Trianon with a couple of photographs that I hope capture the nature of Hameau de la Reine.

Petit Trianon's Hameau de la Reine
\ Petit Trianon’s Hameau de la Reine


Hameau de la Reine - Irises growing on the roof of the dove house
Hameau de la Reine – Irises growing on the roof of the dove house


Hameau de la Reine - Flower pots on the stair
Hameau de la Reine – Flower pots on the stair


Hameau de la Reine - Perfection in a veg garden
Hameau de la Reine – Perfection in a veg garden

If you have the change to visit Versailles and you don’t mind missing out on the palace, head straight for the two Trianons and see a side of royalty that might deliver some new perspectives.

Monet’s garden at Giverny will be the topic of my next post.

Just a little slice off here, and a little slice off there….

In the lead up to Open Studios later this month, I’ve spent some time finishing off paintings. I’ve developed the habit of letting paintings sit at various stages. They stand on easels in the studio or get taped up on the wall while I enjoy pondering their development. In some cases I’m simply enjoying the paint itself. Every stage of a painting has a beauty of its own: It could be the energy of a brushstroke or two, or the anticipation of the next step.  Sometimes they are allowed to sit, just because I’m not entirely sure that they are finished.

Watercolour painting of trees and hills - Horizons

This painting started life much bigger and with different proportions. Finally, I decided it would be improved by removing a section of either side (neither of which was terribly exciting) leaving the core of the image with it’s more dynamic lines and sense of perspective.  Sometimes, the critical step in the improvement of a painting is not what you put in, but in fact – what you take away.  Doing so in this case, allowed the distant light over the hills to draw the eye, after an initial lingering on the dramatic textures in foreground trees.

There’s more to do to get ready for open studios. I have my fingers firmly crossed for good weather so we can open the garden to raise some funds for Care for Casualties. The garden looks fabulous in June, provided it hasn’t rained continuously for weeks.

View from my watercolour painting studio
The view from my studio

The view from my studio is particularly lush right now and the doors are flung wide open as soon as I get into it, so as to ensure that I appreciate every moment of it it, whenever possible.

June is definitely Chairty month in our house. This evening we’ve started the bike ride in aid of Mind. There will be sore behinds and many hours of waiting around – but Chris and Helen have raised well over £2000 for the charity so I’m sure they will count it a privilege to have painful rear ends.  More snippets about their progress may creep into this blog in the coming week. You have been warned.

Open Studios in June

Where did the last three weeks go?  If feels like ages since I picked up my brushes. But there is good reason. In the interim I have had no studio days at all. I’ve been working in London and then whisked off to South Africa on a business trip so it’s been a bit difficult to get into the studio. For some reason I find it incredibly difficult to get my head into painting when I am working intensely, so the creative side of my life seems to get put on hold at those times. Ah well – it means I have something to look forward to when I have a break.

The next exhibition I’ll be doing is the Saffron Waldon Open Studios weekend of 22nd and 23rd June. We’ll simultaneously be opening out garden and serving tea and cake in return for donations to Care for Casualties. Fingers are firmly crossed for good weather. So if you’re in the area, do pop in and visit.

And if you’re further South, here’s the list of other artists taking part. I only wish I could go and visit some of the other studios.

Saffron Walden Open Studio page 2Saffron Walden Open Studios leaflet

The garden is looking marvellous just in time for Open Studios. Now we just need to hope it stays dry and sunny.

Blooming border in early June 2013.
Blooming border in early June 2013.

It’s Personal

Watercolour card - Charlotte's view

Sending a hand painted card feels rather more personal than sending a commercial printed one. It’s not always possible because of time constraints. But it does say something about how important the recipient is to you.

Watercolour - summer field
Watercolour card – summer field

 This one went in a parcel to my son at Sandhurst along with some chocolates I know he likes. I thought he would like the simple countryside scene, given his love of the outdoors.

Watercolour card - Hayley's view
Watercolour card – Hayley’s view

And this was a 40th birthday card for a creative friend who has always been enthusiastic about my paintings. She has  a wonderful perspective of the world as viewed through the lens of her camera, so I chose to paint this garden scene through the lens of a pretty web, with a bit of soft focus in the background.

It’s rather nice to be able to personalise these little cards in some way that reflects something about the person receiving them.

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Painting my life

In Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards reminds us that drawing is simply the process of copying what’s in front of us.  We’re often unaware of just how much the subliminal messages from our analytical brain get in the way of our ability to see what’s in front of us clearly enough to really copy it accurately. We get thrown off course by what we know about the subject we’re painting, rather than being able to screen all of that extra data out and just draw (or paint) it.

Part of my painter’s journey is to constantly work on the development of drawing and painting skills. To that end, I’ve started doing a little practice exercise every week – capturing the shape, colour and essence of the subject. I use small items I have to hand. Last week a rose hip. This week a sprig of rosemary.

Here’s the little piece close up. It strikes me that if I do enough of these, eventually I will have painted the contents of my garden, my kitchen, my house….

Snow Day

Landing in an undignified heap on the stairs down to the Tottenham Hale tube station platform didn’t do a lot for my week.  On the way down the long, steep stairway, my heel caught on the edge of a step and off I went. Luckily there were no broken bones – merely a sprained ankle. This meant some enforced foot-up time during the week. Great for catching up on work, but by Sunday I really needed a break from figure work.

Last year my studio was upstairs in the house. Although I had the option of moving my painting to the summer house, I desisted because I felt that I wouldn’t paint as much in the colder months of the year.

Two weeks ago I did an about turn, and shifted my studio out to the summer house – transformational. Because I can see the studio from the house, it kinda calls me to go and pick up my brushes. Yes, it is cold going out there, but once the heater and the lights are on, it is a great space to be in, and I find myself painting a lot more in my spare time. The light is very different in the summer house, and I am really looking forward to painting from there in the spring and summer.

Last night the predicted snow arrived. We woke up this morning to a good 10cm fall. (Horatio did not enjoy walking through snow that was deep enough to chill his belly.)

I’m not sure whether the path having been cleared and salted was an endorsement of my painting, or concern that my injured ankle wouldn’t cope with trogging through the snow. Either way, the route to the studio door was enticing enough to get me out there.

So, what’s on the easel? I am working on two commissions at the moment. I find the process of working on something I’ve been asked for is much slower and more thoughtful than my usual painting style. There’s much more planning before the paintbrush touches paper.

But, I can’t spend time in the studio without painting something – even when I’m in the planning stage of a piece of work. So today, this little rosehip was the subject of my practice piece.

Finally, if you’re in London and you’ve not yet booked to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy – you really should. I found it inspiring in lots of ways. His use of colour is startling, and there is a wonderful sense of immediacy in his paintings. One of the most surprising aspects of the exhibition is the size and quality of the prints of paintings creating on his iPad.  Really worth seeing.


Discovering creativity: Treasure in the garden

One of the most exciting things about painting is discovering creativity you were previously not aware of.

Suzanne Lindfield emailed me on the subject of discovering creativity. She said:

“The urge to draw and paint was very strong for me when I was a child, I always at it! However I didn’t have the opportunity to study it in school or at third level and that really hindered me and my expression of it for nearly 20 years. But in the last few years (I’m now 41) I’ve come back to it, attending night classes, meeting up with art-folk and of course, meeting the online community. Re-learning has sometimes been difficult and I’ve had many “barriers” in my head to break down. But the greatest thing is that I really feel as though I’ve found treasure in my back garden! It’s just such a joy that keeps on going, getting deeper and learning more all the time. Even the process of breaking down barriers is interesting, although sometimes painful, but there’s always something to learn!”

discovering creativity
There’s treasure in the garden. Mini watercolour

I just love her comment about feeling she had found treasure in her back garden. That is a perfect description of the way it feels every time I get a section of a painting to do exactly what I want it to do. Or when I see one of  those wonderful happy accidents that watercolours deliver from time to time. There is a thrill of discovery every time a new technique works, and every unique creation is rather like treasure.

Discovering creativity in yourself when you didn’t know that particular skill was there is a really satisfying experience.

Discovering creativity in a different form

So now the question is: Doesn’t everyone have some treasure waiting to be discovered? It may not be art, but if there’s a new skill to be learned; new insights to be uncovered; then there is treasure. I wrote about being thrilled every time I hear someone has decided to try learning to paint. Suzanne’s comment explains why that’s so exciting: I can’t help smiling when I think about the thrill they’re going to have when they see an image emerge from the end of their brush; when they catch a glimpse of their gold. Now I’m beginning to feel rather like an archaeologist. There’s a lot of digging at times, but the treasure – when I find it – is well worth the work. Thank you, Suzanne.