Picture of the week: 20/09/21

RAILWAY enthusiasts may have a particular affection for Andrew Keenleyside’s gloriously colourful paintings of the countryside in and around Harpenden.

For one of his favourite sources of inspiration is the “Nickey Line” – a long disused line which once linked the towns of Hemel Hempstead and Harpenden, but much of which has been redeveloped as a cycle and walking path.

One of a series of portraits of the Nickey Line, by Andrew Keenleyside

The Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead branch railway ran for almost nine miles between the West Coast main line from London to Birmingham and the Midland main line from London to Leicester.

With a nickname shrouded in obscurity – there are numerous theories about its origins – passenger demand was never high and further declined in the years between the wars.

By the end of 1946 the only regular passengers on the Harpenden train were a handful of schoolchildren and when passenger services were “temporarily” suspended because of national coal shortages, the service was never reinstated.

A wintry scene on the Nickey Line, by Andrew Keenleyside

Although the last passengers travelled on the line in June 1947, the route remains popular with cyclists and walkers, as reflected in Andrew’s paintings, which use vivid colour and expressive impasto textures to try to capture the essence of the changing seasons.

“I admire Pissarro and Sisley in terms of their compositional themes, along with Henri Mattise and the Fauves with the vivid and exciting use of colour in their palette,” says Andrew, whose work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and is also represented in private collections in the USA, the Far East, South Africa and Europe.

Freight services continued to run over part of the route until 1979, but while some of the line has disappeared under houses and roads, sections of the route remain recognisable, including some bridges and sections of embankment which feature in Andrew’s pictures.

Back in August 2020, it was one of his paintings which was used to kick-start our Picture of the Week series. He is a regular exhibitor at the annual Herts Visual Arts open studios event, which this year again includes a wide range of virtual galleries and demonstrations.

Events run from until October 10, with more than 60 venues opening their doors to visitors. The full programme can be found on the Herts Visual Arts website.

Picture of the week: 13/09/21

HERTS Open Studios returns this week, the event which prompted the launch of our weekly Picture series just over a year ago.

And to celebrate the anniversary, today’s picture choice seems particularly appropriate as it features a self-taught oil painter who only rediscovered the love of painting during lockdown.

Blue Birch Waters by Leon Barnes was inspired by the work of TV art legend Bob Ross

The work itself is a homage to Bob Ross, the soft-spoken American art legend whose Joy of Painting TV series still enthrals millions today on Youtube.

And Stevenage artist Leon Barnes has even produced a video tutorial demonstrating the trademark wet-on-wet technique of the man whose “happy little trees” proved an inspiration to so many.

As a DJ and karaoke host for the past 16 years, Leon found his business swept away overnight by the lockdown restrictions.

Feeling lost and depressed, and lacking funds for a family birthday present, he stumbled across a stored loft gift from 2009 of an oil painting set and some old canvases, and embarked on a new artistic journey.

“Thanks to Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting, I found a new purpose, a hidden talent and lifeline,” says Leon.

Sunset Lake, an original oil on canvas landscape by Leon Barnes

This month, Leon is one of dozens of artists featured in this year’s Herts Open Studios event, which brings artists, artisans and art-lovers together for three weeks of inspiration and discovery in communities across Hertfordshire.

Events run from September 18 to October 10, with more than 60 venues opening their doors to visitors and a variety of local area art trails offering a range of free events from working studios and demonstrations to group exhibitions.

Running for more than 30 years, it is the largest county-wide art event with every venue free to enter and offering visitors a unique opportunity to meet artists and to enjoy and discuss their work.

Sunset Stream, an original oil on canvas landscape by Leon Barnes

Artists also offer online demonstrations and tours, allowing virtual visits to take place 24 hours a day.

“With many new artists joining our event alongside long-standing participants, there is just so much to explore,” said Herts Visual Arts chair, Sally Taylor. The full programme can be found on the Herts Visual Arts website.

Picture of the week: 06/09/21

OUR picture of the week this week takes us back to the fair, and the lost skill of fairground art.

As we revealed last October, although the coronavirus lockdown hit travelling funfairs hard, Joby Carter of Carters Steam Fair wasn’t prepared to sit back and do nothing over the long summer months when shows had to be cancelled.

Instead he launched a series of online courses passing on his traditional signwriting techniques to people from over the world from his paint shop outside Maidenhead.

Flash forward 12 months and once again people can enjoy at first hand the wonderful old rides, vintage heavy lorries and magnificent living wagons with their cut-glass windows, lace curtains and gleaming wood interiors.

With the show’s famous 1890s gallopers and other rides once again open to the public at a series of local venues until mid-October, visitors can see for themselves what the fuss is all about – and why this unique “steam fair” has earned such a warm place in the hearts of local communities for the past four decades.

Details of Joby’s online signwriting courses can be found here.

Picture of the week: 30/08/21

OUR picture spotlight this week is not an individual artist or photographer, but a very special and unusual place.

Stoke Common is a remarkable patch of ancient heathland that comes to life in the summer and autumn when the heather and gorse are in full bloom.

There may be times of the year on a drizzly day when this landscape can seem a little bleak, but when the butterflies are dancing and the blackberry blossom is blooming, it’s a very different story.

Yes, there may be a rumble of distant traffic from the motorway if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, or the roar of boy racers testing out the surrounding back roads, but for many this 200-acre oasis is a reminder of what much of Buckinghamshire might have looked like in centuries past.

Owned and run by the City of London Corporation, with the help of volunteers and supporters like the Friends of Stoke Common, the common is a perfect retreat for walkers and runners trying to get away from it all.

Since many of the plant and insect species recorded here are rare, visitors need to stay on the signposted paths, which means youngsters wanting to explore and build dens are better advised to head for nearby Black Park or Burnham Beeches.

But for those who enjoy the chance to escape the crowds, there are few better places to “get back to nature” among the spiders and stonechats, cinnabar moths and butterflies.

After last month’s explosion of ragwort, now it’s time for the common to start looking more like a Scottish heath than somewhere a stone’s throw from Slough, as reflected in our Beyonder blog entry last summer.

It’s also the perfect place for dramatic sunsets and fascinating cloud formations, as we reflected in another summer postcard a year ago.

There’s even the faint chance of spotting an elusive adder, though a lot more likely that a dusk rustle in the gorse is actually one of the score of burnished brown Sussex cattle that do their bit to protect the heathland by grazing the common, and look very smooth, velvety and healthy on their prickly diet.

Created by a combination of poor, acidic soils and careful land management, the heathland is designated as an important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Its beauty may not always be immediately obvious to the casual visitor, but catch the sunlight on the heather at this time of year, or the cloud formations at dusk against a spectacular sky, and you could be in a far distant land.

Picture of the week: 23/08/21

AFTER two weeks “on vacation” in Dorset enjoying the striking wildlife paintings of Sam Cannon, it’s almost time to return to the Chilterns.

However there’s still time for a final quick visit to an extraordinary oasis of tranquillity which we featured in our Further Afield section last month.

Here, you can enjoy a picnic with friends in glorious countryside and take in an extraordinary exhibition of modern sculpture at the same time.

The 26 acres that provide the setting for Sculpture by the Lakes have allowed sculptor Simon Gudgeon and wife Monique to create an environment for enthusiasts that blends nature’s beauty with inspiring works of art, free from the space constraints of a traditional gallery.

Carefully landscaped the aim of enhancing the aesthetic qualities of each sculpture, the park features paths which meander round the lakes, each turn revealing a different vista and new work of art, many by Simon and some by guest exhibitors.

The park at Pallington opened in 2011 and is home to some of Simon’s monumental finished pieces, as well as housing studio workshops. He sculpts primarily in bronze, and occasionally in marble, granite, glass or stainless steel.

For more information about the park and the range of sculptures to be found there, see our full feature here and Simon’s website for details about entry, upcoming exhibitions and other news.

Picture of the week: 16/08/21

OUR picture choice this week provides a postscript to our recent article about Dorset artist Sam Cannon and her extraordinary wildlife paintings.

Last week we wrote about Sam’s art, and how her decision to include lettering in some of her paintings had prompted an explosion of interest in her work, which nowadays attracts a substantial and enthusiastic following on Facebook and Instagram.

Shepherd’s Hut by Sam Cannon

Howver the artist, based near Lyme Regis in Dorset, still talks of herself as “just being a mum who also paints in between all the other things life throws at me”.

Despite her modesty, it’s clear that her paintings provide a source of solace and inspiration to many, not least her remarkable Shepherd’s Hut, a moonlit woodland scene which incorporates a quote from the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

The words are those of Sonya in Chekhov’s 1898 play Uncle Vanya: “We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.”

The words are beautifully juxtaposed against a peaceful woodland backdrop, the cool blues and greys of the moonlit shadows offset by the warmth emanating from the shepherd’s hut and the brown-and-white forms of two late-night visitors.

Like most of Sam’s paintings, the work combines her love of wildlife with an understanding of tyopgraphy honed during her years of study at Reading University.

When Sam referred to our original article in a post to her 43,000 followers on Facebook, along with her reflections about her week and current difficulties in selling original work, it prompted an outpouring of affection and support from her fans.

Reflections by Sam Cannon

Despite the satisfaction of working as a full-time artist, setbacks range from a summer slump in the market for original pieces to export problems when dealing with customers in North America.

Sam stopped shipping to North America earlier in the year because of the hit-or-miss nature of dealings with customs and the US postal system.

She wrote: “Every time an item is severely delayed or lost, it all falls back on me. I lose customers and money. I’d rather offer no service than a hit-or-miss one.”

She has had similar doubts about spending 30 to 40 hours working on a painting just to see it sit in a folder, instead deciding to concentrate on smaller tasks. “I’ve been painting wooden hearts,” she posted. “And whilst things remain so quiet for me, I’ll be continuing to focus on small things like wooden hearts, slates and pebbles in the hope that my paintings will once again start to find homes.”

Her fans have been quick to offer their support, with hundreds of likes, shares and comments responding to her original post, many of which Sam has responded to in person. Among the words of encouragement are those who appreciate her honesty in talking about such matters on her site.

“Your words are beautiful and calming . . . just like your painting,” wrote one. And, with reference to Reflections, another wrote: “It’s a beautiful painting Sam, one which will help many people reflect on the last year or so.”

Sam Cannon’s painting can be found on her website and instagram feed. As well as original works, she also sells limited edition giclée prints, greeting cards and calendars.

Picture of the week: 09/08/21

ANIMALS feature hugely in the life of Dorset artist Sam Cannon, so it’s not surprising they should become the central focus of her art.

Her daily routine starts with a trip round the field clearing up horse poo and checking on her beautiful piebald cob, now 28 and needing feeding every four hours to keep his weight on.

“I do this with my mum and generally by the time we’ve finished we’ve put the world to rights, got out our frustrations with the males in the family and fully woken up,” Sam told readers in one of the short newsletters she started producing last year.

But it’s not only horses that Sam cares about. Badgers and foxes feature prominently in her paintings, along with birds, bumblebees and mice – well, all kinds of wildlife, really.

Fox and badger by Sam Cannon

Living in the Marshwood Vale, close to Lyme Regis in Dorset, Sam is self-deprecating about her work, despite its popularity.

“I’ve always thought of myself as just being a mum who also paints in between all the other things life throws at me,” she says.

She had always loved drawing, encouraged by her grandad, but after A levels enrolled on a course at Reading University in typography and graphic communication.

“It’s an amazing course, the only university course like it in the country,” she explains. Four years on and she knew all about typographic design, the history of printing and typography, and had been on trips to Rome, Florence, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany – but drawing wasn’t a part of the course.

Having worked in a variety of office jobs, including the family business, she spent a couple of years trying to be an artist back in the 90s, specialising in horse-racing pictures, but struggled to make a living, and returned to office work.

But in 2010 when Sam and her parents moved to Dorset she decided to to give art another go. After a couple of years of painting various subjects without success, she decided to incorporate some lettering into her work.

The trees began to whisper by Sam Cannon

“And as it turns out, it’s the lettering that turned things around for me,” she recalls. “It was only when I started combining lettering with paintings that things started to change. And my pictures with words are nearly always my most popular ones.”

Not that everyone likes this style – and in her posts on Instagram and Facebook, Sam has spoken of the hurt that a chance remark or email can cause.  

“I know that some people hate that I combine them – lots have told me so and it is disheartening. But I can’t please everyone,” she says.  

Deep Peace by Sam Cannon

“I love painting and I really enjoy painting letters. Planning them out, changing shapes. I spent four years studying letterforms: I’m grateful I get to use them in this way.”

And it’s since then that things have got busier and busier for Sam.  At last she is a full-time artist, living near the sea close to Lyme Regis, painting and drawing pictures and turning them into greetings cards, prints and calendars to sell online or through shops and galleries throughout the UK.  

Her son is soon off to university and she’s looking forward to learning about how best she can continue to transform the eight acres where they live.

Colmers Hill –The owl and the badgers by Sam Cannon

“We’ve been gradually learning about this amazing place where we are located. We’ve stopped taking hay from the field and year on year, seen the orchids flourish,” she says. “The wild flowers are growing back thicker year on year (yarrow, bird’s-foot trefoil, fleabane, honeysuckle, vetch, meadowsweet etc).

“The butterflies and solitary bees are increasing in numbers. We are only cutting the hedges every three years and then sparingly (and in places where the horses eat them, not at all). We’ve introduced red mason bees and seen terrific harvests of fruit on our trees. And apples are left on the ground in abundance for the birds to feed on over winter.

Balance by Sam Cannon

“Bird numbers have really increased too. More blackbirds and thrushes. More of the birds that love the thick hedgerows and dive down into our wild flower meadow to eat the grasshoppers and beetles that are thriving there. Eight acres isn’t a lot but we’ve seen real change. And it inspires my work every day.”

Sam’s time is spent juggling various priorities: running the business, painting new work, nurturing the beautiful place where she lives, and of course, caring for Dylan. “Though not necessarily in that order,” she says.

Part of the steep learning curve has been learning when to say “no” to commissions, exhibitions or other commitments which are simply too much to handle without taking on staff or becoming a much bigger business.

“It doesn’t get any easier to say but if people are kind and understanding, they get it,” she says.

Her subject matter has developed too. “When I first started these lettering pictures it was all about the local Dorset locations. But now, more and more, it’s about nature. I love animals and I’ve tried really hard to get better at watercolour painting and learn new things all the time.”

It would come as no surprise to those who know her that spotting a young seagull entangled in netting above a Bridport shop would end in an avian rescue mission that involved long days of two-hourly feeds, bandages and pecked arms and legs.

But a few weeks later the juvenile was ready to be socialised with other rescued gulls before being released.

Says Sam: “On our way back from taking him to the very kind chap who does this work, we then found a dog lost on the roads too. The whole trip (including reuniting the elderly dog with its owner) took just over five and a half hours. This is why I struggle to get things done!”

Fox Family by Sam Cannon

Sam Cannon’s painting can be found on her website and instagram feed. As well as original works, she also sells limited edition giclée prints, greeting cards and calendars.

Picture of the week: 02/08/21

LAST week’s picture choice provoked such a reaction that it was inevitable that we’d want to find out a little more about artist Jo Grundy.

And where better to start than by featuring another of her most popular prints, A Place By The Sea.

A Place By The Sea by Jo Grundy

Her mention of last week’s article on her Facebook page prompted more than 600 likes and 60 shares, but it was the warmth and range of the responses that was most inspiring.

Our selected image, Moonlit Bay, obviously resonated with dozens of her customers, many of whom spoke of receiving it as a present or of having it on their bedroom wall.

“Wonderful evocative work. I could lose myself in it,” wrote one. “I love it. I could look at it for hours,” said another.

Poignantly, another added: “This is in my bedroom wall to urge me on to my future home by the sea.”

By Dusky Lake by Jo Grundy

Jo’s prints span all four seasons and reflect landscapes from the Chilterns to the Scottish Highlands, but what is it exactly that makes the vibrant paintings so popular?

“A lot of people remark about the sense of calm they feel when looking at my paintings,” says Jo. “I think they have developed quite a therapeutic appeal. People say that they can walk right into them and imagine themselves there, listening to the birds singing or the waves crashing against the shore.

“They also seem to provoke a sense of nostalgia too, bringing back memories of paths walked and views seen. This therapeutic value has been further enhanced during the last couple of years with all the stress around the pandemic.”

Blossom Meadow by Jo Grundy

Jo was born and brought up on a farm in West Berkshire, which she believes gave her a love of nature and the English landscape. She worked in graphics for 14 years but began creating home-made greetings cards after taking time out to have her two children.

“As this brought in only a small income, I started to work on developing my painting style,” she says.

Nowadays she uses mainly acrylics, in particular a brand of decorative paint which boasts a vivid and distinctive palette. Her Etsy shop has become her main source of income, alongside custom orders, original sales, and licensing.

So how has her family reacted to the increasing demand for her art? “As my business has grown my family are my Number One fans, especially my sister who is collecting my canvas prints with a view that if she covers her walls with them then there is no need to re-decorate,” says Jo.

Harvest Song by Jo Grundy

“My mother-in-law and her friends delight in spotting my licensed products in the shops such as my cards and calendars. Unfortunately, both my parents died some years ago now so never saw my success as an artist, but I am sure they would have been very proud.

“I think my husband has been pleasantly surprised by my success as he was quite sceptical at first.”

Lockdown had an enormously positive affect on her business – perhaps because of the therapeutic appeal of her pictures. It has also meant more time spent processing and packing orders, although she does try to paint as regularly as she can.

“I also have family commitments which must be juggled around my business,” she says. “I really love working for myself as the flexibility means I can still be there for my family. I paint at my easel in my conservatory which provides amazing light but for a few weeks in the year becomes too hot to paint in as the paint dries before I even get it on the canvas. I then decamp to my kitchen table to paint on slate panels.”

Garden Beside The Sea by Jo Grundy

Life’s ambitions? “I have never really painted au plein air and this is something I wouldn’t mind trying as I would have to work quickly and observe more,” she says.

Many of her striking originals are on sale as prints in her Etsy shop, while others have been licensed for greetings cards, prints and more recently cross-stitch kits and objects ranging from aprons to lampshades.

“I never initially thought about licensing but it is a direction that found me and it’s lovely to see my work as cards and other products,” she says.

Jo’s portfolio, including original paintings and a range of prints and other products can be found on her website.

Picture of the week: 26/07/21

SOME art works are guaranteed to make you smile.

Jo Grundy’s stylised, whimsical paintings have just such an effect – as those buying her works are quick to testify.

MOONLIT BAY: a print on paper of the sea at night from an original acrylic by Jo Grundy

Jo says that being born and brought up on a farm in West Berkshire gave her a love of nature and the English landscape which she tries to capture in her vibrant, colourful paintings.

“I have always been creative and it was inevitable that I would choose a career based around art so I trained as a graphic designer which was an easier option to earn a living from, at that time, than a fine artist,” she says.

DOWN SUMMER LANE: a print from an original acrylic by Jo Grundy

Working in graphics for the next 14 years clearly influenced her use of colour and composition and after taking time out to have her two children, she initially began creating home-made greetings cards.

“As this brought in only a small income, I started to work on developing my painting style,” she says. “To begin with all my paintings were in mixed media and I used everything from paint and paper to stitching and beads to create highly textured and ornate pieces.”

WINTER AT KINGFISHER COTTAGE: a print from an acrylic original by Jo Grundy

Nowadays she uses mainly acrylics, in particular a brand of decorative paint which boasts a vivid and distinctive palette designed for use on a variety of surfaces including wood and glass as well as paper and canvas.

“My main inspiration comes from the ever-changing seasons of the English landscape, with my favourite season being winter as I love to see the structure and detail of trees and hedgerows,” she explains. “My winter scenes are very popular with many selling before they are even finished.”

SNOWY LANDSCAPE: a print on paper from an original acrylic painting by Jo Grundy

Many of her striking originals are on sale as prints in her Etsy shop, and buyers have been enthusiastic in their praise.

“Beautiful, and hanging in my home office where I can see the “countryside” every day. LOVE it!” said one. “It is truly beautiful, and brings me so much joy,” said another.

WESTBURY HORSES: a print on paper from an original acrylic painting by Jo Grundy

Says Jo: “I have been selling my work, mainly online for over seven years and have many of my images licensed for greetings cards, prints and more recently cross-stitch kits.

“I never initially thought about licensing but it is a direction that found me and it’s lovely to see my work as cards and other products.”

Jo’s portfolio, including original paintings and a range of prints and other products can be found on her website. And the picture choice proved so popular, Jo’s work was featured for a second week.

Picture of the week: 19/07/21

EVERY picture tells a story – and for art expert Patrick van der Vorst, the best paintings can speak volumes.

STAR SEEDER: graffiti art by Morfai in Kaunas, Lithuania

As a senior director at Sotheby’s in London, the Belgian-born auctioneer and dealer had become an industry expert with a huge accumulated knowledge about the world of art, antiques and collectibles.

He even featured as a winner on the TV programme Dragons’ Den when his antiques-valuing website Value My Stuff was backed by both Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis.

EARLY MARTYRS: St Peter and St Paul as depicted by Cavarozzi © Galerie G Sarti, Paris

But the entrepreneur’s life took a new twist in 2019 when he enrolled as a seminarian with the Diocese of Westminster, studying at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome to become a priest.

And it’s now a couple of years since he launched a new website linking daily Gospel readings with poignant and reflective works of art, accompanied by a short personal commentary.

“FOLLOW ME”: The Calling of Saint Matthew by Panini (1752) © Museo Poldi Pezzoli

From Old Masters to street artists like Morfai, whose work is our picture choice this week, the website features an extraordinary range of artworks spanning the centuries, allowing visitors to consider the daily reading from a new perspective.

The French impressionist painting Picking Peas by Camille Pissarro, for example, was looted by the Nazis during World War Two when France was under German occupation, and was only returned to its rightful Jewish owners in 2017.

RICH HARVEST: La Ceuillette des Pois, painted by Camille Pissarro in 1887 © Sotheby’s Paris

It sold at auction for €3.3 million in March this year, and Patrick uses it to reflect on the spiritual harvest referred to in Matthew Ch 9, when “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few”.

Likewise his choice of Star Seeder, a piece of graffiti art which went viral after it appeared on a wall in Lithuania’s second-largest city, ties in with Luke’s explanation of how, with the crowds gathering around him, Jesus recounts the parable of the sower spreading his seed on different types of land, to see much of it trampled on, eaten by birds, withered or choked. Only the seed falling into rich soil grows to produce a successful crop.

Patrick explains: “At first there was simply the bronze statue created by Bernardas Bučas (1903–1979) in Kaunas, the art deco capital of Lithuania. The sculpture embodies the interwar period where the peasant is sowing grains, working for his country.

HIDDEN MESSAGE: Morfai‘s street art only makes sense at night

“Fast forward to 2008. Street artist Morfai sprayed the wall behind the sculpture with stars. The composition works only at night, as then with the light which is shining upon the monument, a shadow of the sculpture is cast onto the wall, which then corresponds with the stars being sown by the shadow silhouette of the sower… The grains have become stars…”

During the day, the street artwork makes no sense – and likewise with parables it may be that they make little sense at first sight, Patrick suggests. “It is only at certain times, or when our own personal circumstances change, or a certain light is shining upon a certain aspect of our lives that the parables make sense,” he writes.

Ironically, the original artwork was overpainted and it was only eight years later that Morfai was invited to restore it, this time incorporated black granite stars onto the wall behind the statue.

Patrick’s website offers a daily news letter by email with the Gospel reading of the day, alongside an appropriate work of art and short reflection.

Picture of the week: 12/07/21

THE insects in today’s picture choice are so vivid and lifelike that it’s hard to believe they were painted more than 350 years ago.

But the painting on copper panel actually dates from 1657 and is the work of Jan van Kessel the Elder, a versatile Flemish artist known for his meticulous studes of insects and flowers (along with marine and river landscapes).

METICULOUS DETAIL: van Kessel’s extraordinary painting from 1657

Born in Antwerp in 1626, van Kessel belonged to a dynasty of famous painters and a couple of his works are in the National Gallery.

But despite the vivid realism of the colours in his sprig of redcurrants lying alongside an elephant hawk moth, ladybird, millipede and other insects, to modern eyes the study may feel uncomfortably lifeless.

But of course that stems from our ability to capture the natural world in all its splendour without trapping, killing and impaling them in cabinets of curiosities, as early natural history enthusiasts were prone to do.

NATURAL WONDER: the spectacular peacock butterfly PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Ironically van Kessel – a keen observer praised in his day for his precision and attention to detail – was perhaps more radical in his artistic approach than we might initially appreciate as 21st-century observers of his work.

“Cabinets of wonder”, as they were also known, were early forerunners of museums – private collections of notable objects which emerged during the 16th century and helped to establish the socioeconomic status of their curators.

Filled with all kinds of disparate objects, from preserved animals, horns, tusks and skeletons to minerals, sculptures or clockwork automata, such collections often helped to promote scientific advancement when their contents were publicised and discussed, and the desire to collect and categorise the natural world inspired artists to achieve the same in painted form.

POLLEN COUNT: an industrious bee PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

By the Victorian era, the pursuit of collecting was held in high esteem and formal parlours functioned as private museums with which to impress and amaze guests, the age of scientific exploration and discovery fuelling the popularity of taxidermy as an all-consuming obsession.

But for van Kessel way back in the 17th century, a collection of studies of flowers and insects engraved and published in 1592 in Frankfurt was to influence his work, and his studies differ from the dispassionate approach of predecessors who arranged flora and fauna in rows, as if they were specimens in a collector’s cabinet.

UNDER COVER: a ladybird potentially unaware of its prey PICTURE: Nick Bell

Van Kessel created a more dynamic arrangement of insects, where his message of nature as a mirror of God’s power would not have been lost on contemporary audiences.

As art expert and seminarian Patrick van der Vorst wrote in a recent reflection on the work: “The juxtaposition of Van Kessel’s animated painted insects with the redcurrants and two moths delights the viewer. There is a certain cheerfulness that emanates from these paintings.”

WILD ENCOUNTERS: nature comes alive in words and pictures @DrawnIntoNature

Perhaps that means van Kessel’s painting from 1657 has more in common with the vibrant portraits in modern nature journals than the grim drawers favoured by Victorian collectors, who kept their insects and butterflies so neatly and systematically arranged and ordered.

Picture of the week: 05/07/21

ARTISTS and makers across Buckinghamshire throw open their doors in June to showcase their work.

But even when the event is over, online galleries give visitors the chance to explore the work of dozens of creative souls from all over the Chilterns throughout the year.

MINDFUL MOMENTS: Sharon Bailey draws inspiration from the Chilterns landscape

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

Many of the local artists, from Anna Dillon and Jane Duff to Sue Graham and Christine Bass, have featured in The Beyonder’s Picture of the Week series and can be accessed through out Local Landscapes page.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Highland Moo visits Pitstone Windmill by Katie Nathan

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham organise their own trail maps during the live event and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

And while many artists draw inspiration from the Chilterns countryside, subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

LIGHT AND DARK: oils provide a favourite medium for Joe Little

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Picture of the week: 28/06/21

ARTISTS and makers across Buckinghamshire throw open their doors in June to showcase their work.

But even when the event is over, online galleries give visitors the chance to explore the work of dozens of creative souls from all over the Chilterns throughout the year.

MINDFUL MOMENTS: Sharon Bailey draws inspiration from the Chilterns landscape

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

Many of the local artists, from Anna Dillon and Jane Duff to Sue Graham and Christine Bass, have featured in The Beyonder’s Picture of the Week series and can be accessed through out Local Landscapes page.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Highland Moo visits Pitstone Windmill by Katie Nathan

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham organise their own trail maps during the live event and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

And while many artists draw inspiration from the Chilterns countryside, subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

LIGHT AND DARK: oils provide a favourite medium for Joe Little

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Picture of the week: 21/06/21

ARTISTS and makers across Buckinghamshire throw open their doors in June to showcase their work.

But even when the event is over, online galleries give visitors the chance to explore the work of dozens of creative souls from all over the Chilterns throughout the year.

MINDFUL MOMENTS: Sharon Bailey draws inspiration from the Chilterns landscape

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

Many of the local artists, from Anna Dillon and Jane Duff to Sue Graham and Christine Bass, have featured in The Beyonder’s Picture of the Week series and can be accessed through out Local Landscapes page.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Highland Moo visits Pitstone Windmill by Katie Nathan

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham organise their own trail maps during the live event and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

And while many artists draw inspiration from the Chilterns countryside, subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

LIGHT AND DARK: oils provide a favourite medium for Joe Little

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Picture of the week: 14/06/21

ONE OF the great delights of art is its capacity to transport us to different landscapes.

And while so many of the images featured on this site capture the familiar surroundings of the Chilterns, today’s choice takes us to the south of France and the extraordinarily beautiful French hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence.

Hidden down a backstreet here is an unassuming chapel which was once the home of a brotherhood of pious laymen who did good works to earn forgiveness for their sins. 

Today it houses some remarkable works created by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, who was commissioned by the town’s mayor to renovate the building.

It was to be the artist’s final commission before his death in 2005 at the age of 71, and it turned into a sanctuary of light and serenity encapsulating the work of the Pénitents Blancs while at the same time immortalising Folon’s love for the village.

Known for his illustrations and posters for Unesco and Amnesty International as well as large-scale sculptures in Brussels and Lisbon, Folon’s vision was completed posthumously by a select group of artisans and master glassmakers.

One wall is dominated by an immense mosaic of the village (above), while other murals and stained-glass windows evoke the theme of giving, in keeping with the vocation of the Penitents.

The first traces of the brotherhood in Saint-Paul date from 1581 and they existed in the village until the 1920s. Their charity work with the underprivileged included caring for the sick, handing out clothing and food, and giving grain to farmers in trouble. They would also offer food and shelter to lost travellers and penniless pilgrims. Similar religious congregations of penitents are known by the different colours of their habits – white, black, blue, grey, red, violet and green.

Formally opened in 2008, the chapel is a light-filled joyous place, from the stunning baptismal font (below) to the pastel walls and striking sculptures – but these works also hark back to earlier themes about the preservation of the environment, which is why his work seemed so well suited to being featured in the pages of The Beyonder.

It’s almost 30 years since Folon brought together a series of engravings and posters in an exhibition called Notre Terre which ran in several small towns in France, followed by a collaboration in Italy addressing the same subject – and leaving a legacy of large posters covering the walls of Italian cities for several years afterwards.

Today, the artworks in the Folon Chapel provide a welcome oasis of peace in the heart of the village, which became such a focus for artistic endeavour almost exactly a century ago.

Artists first started frequenting Saint-Paul at the beginning of the 1920s. The trail blazers – Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine – set up their easels attracted by the colours and rich, intense light, and were soon followed by visitors like Matisse and Picasso.

The artists enjoyed the company of Paul Roux – a painter, art collector and the owner of the famous Colombe d’Or restaurant, whose walls are still adorned with their paintings today.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the village had become a melting pot of talent, with poets, artists and writers rubbing shoulders with the movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and the Cannes Film Festival.

Find out more about the Folon Chapel on the village website.

Picture of the week: 07/06/21

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STUNNING. That’s the word which springs to mind when you first glance through Paul Mitchell’s amazing portfolio of pictures chronicling the different seasons in one of Britain’s most famous woodlands.

It’s a magical world which is constantly changing through the year, as Paul demonstrates in his startling shots of Burnham Beeches – that tiny remnant of the ancient woodlands which once covered so much of the country.

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Paul’s ‘album’ contains dozens of uncaptioned photographs of the woods throughout the year – draped in snow, dappled by sunlight, looking mystical and enchanting, sometimes intriguing and welcoming, sometimes otherworldly and even scary.

He explains: “The portfolio is my response to this world of wonder and features images made in the icy grip of winter, the vibrancy of springtime, the green canopy of summer, through to the richness of autumn.”

Burnham Beeches was bought by the City of London Corporation in the latter part of the 19th century to safeguard the area from property developers and to protect its future for generations to come.

As Paul explains, the landscape of the Site of Special Scientific Interest was created by human management going back many centuries and has provided grazing land for livestock and fuel via the pollarding of beech and oak trees which has not only helped to prolong the lives of the trees, but help to give them their characteristic gnarled appearance.

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Born in East Yorkshire, Paul studied graphic design at art college and soon after began his design career in London. He now lives in East Dorset as a professional landscape photographer and specialist book designer.

A respected photographic judge and lecturer, he has staged numerous exhibitions and has had articles and images published in many photographic magazines. His website can be found here.

Picture of the week: 31/05/21

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HAPPY LITTLE TREES: American TV art legend Bob Ross inspires a new generation of artists

THERE could hardly be a painter whose geographical sources of inspiration are further removed from the gentle landscapes of the Chilterns than the soft-spoken American cult art legend Bob Ross.

But budding artists don’t need to focus on the mountains and log cabins in Ross’s pictures to pick up some handy technical tips from the inspiring host of the US TV program The Joy of Painting, which aired from 1983 to 1994 and still enthrals millions today on Youtube, as well as being screened on the BBC.

There are plenty of “happy little trees” in Black Park, after all, and dozens of Ross’s video tutorials to choose from for anyone tempted to crack out the titanium white and give his trademark wet-on-wet technique a shot.

Perhaps part of Ross’s timeless appeal is the fact he was himself a convert to art after attending a painting class in Anchorage during his 20 years in the US Air Force and honed his own techniques at the feet of another TV artist, the German painter Bill Alexander.

Ross’s enduring popularity stems in part from his distinctive laid-back style, quaint catchphrases and eternal upbeat positivity, and in part from the sheer speed and ease of his quick-painting technique. If you’re ever tempted by the idea of painting but never got round to giving it a try, check out Ross’s official Youtube channel, which has around four million subscribers, or the current BBC4 season of repeats.

Picture of the week: 24/05/21

THOSE who love an early morning walk in Slough’s Langley Park or Black Park may already be familiar with the work of landscape photographer Kevin Day.

PERFECT SYMMETRY: Love Swans by Kevin Day

The Slough-based photographer has contributed a number of pictures to a gallery linked to the Friends of Langley Park website – and the story of one major photography project is told in an old profile article in Amateur Photographer.

NEW DAWN: the gnarled tree in Langley Park by Kevin Day

“I often get up at five or six in the morning and go to the park, which is a ten-minute walk away,” says Kevin in the article. “It’s the light that interests me, and the way it affects the landscape. It’s constantly changing, at different times of the day, different times of year.”

His studies of a gnarled tree in Langley Park showed how you can return to the same subject again and again and get a different picture every time. But Kevin goes on to explain how the tree was also a symbol of his photographic renaissance.

Today, his personal work continues to complement his professional output and a selection of his nature pictures reflect this. “It’s more of a little hidden gallery occasionally people stumble across!” he says.

For those who share Kevin’s love of those two local parks, it’s a real treat – with dozens of pictures to choose from – and the option to purchase copies too.

Picture of the week: 17/05/21

OUR picture choice this week doesn’t focus on an individual artist or photographer, but a place – Temple Gardens in Langley Park, in fact, where May sees the rhododendrons back in full glorious bloom.

This is the month when visitors are guaranteed a spectacular fireworks display of colour, and it’s these pathways which provided the image that has graced the home page of The Beyonder for the past three years.

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In mid- to late May it’s a startling spectacle, and you arrive early enough in the morning or on a weekday, you may have those winding paths pretty much to yourself, apart from the odd jogger or dog walker.

It’s one of many local walks featured in the drop-down menu on our What’s On pages, and the park itself is one of more than 50 destinations for family days out in our at-a-glance guide, as well as being the subject of a longer article in the Our Visits section.

Picture of the week: 10/05/21

OXFORDSHIRE remains in the spotlight for our picture choice this week as the UK’s biggest open studios event continues across the county until May 23.

Ultramarine Flock by Alice Walker

Ultramarine Flock is one of more than two dozen recent works featuring in this year’s Oxfordshire Artweeks festival programme by Eynsham artist Alice Walker.

“This past year my inspiration has been found very close at home in the hedgerows and woods, fields and skies of Eynsham,” says Alice. “Daily dog walks have provided me with the opportunity to watch the seasons unfurl and glow.”

Alongside oils, monotypes, collage and pencil work she has been experimenting with applying watercolour with a calligraphy nib.

Silver Ghosts by Alice Walker

“It has proved an ideal technique for capturing the dancing light and canopy of leaves,” adds Alice, who studied at Edinburgh College of Art and has been teaching all kinds of art to adults and children for almost 20 years.

She says: “Many themes inspire me both from the human and natural world; plants and architecture, landscapes and rooftops. I see patterns everywhere and light and colour in their infinite combinations are an endless source of inspiration and challenge.”

Having lived and exhibited in Oxfordshire for more than two decades, Alice says she likes to approach the same subject in multiple ways, playing with different combinations of colour and composition.

“Like most artists I make art about the things I love,” she says. “As I find peace and healing when out in nature I try to create art on that theme in ways that will uplift and inspire.”

The 2021 Oxfordshire Artweeks festival runs until May 23, featuring dozens of covid-secure venues and hundreds of virtual exhibitions and studios on more than 20 themed art trails.

Picture of the week: 03/05/21

A PASSION for plants has driven the art career of Julia Loken, a watercolour artist based in Eynsham outside Oxford.

Without any formal training, Julia worked for 20 years as a freelance botanical illustrator, preparing pen and ink drawings for botanical textbooks. Then, in 1980, she began to paint seriously, when her love of plants naturally led her to choose them as her favourite subjects.

Woodland Path by Julia Loken

Living with her husband in a 220-year-old cottage with beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, she also enjoys painting a variety of country landscapes, both at home and abroad.

This weekend she is one of hundreds of local artists featured in the annual May festival organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks, where artists across Oxfordshire throw open their doors to the public.

Many of those exhibiting have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side.

Julia’s exhibition of around 40 watercolour paintings is spread across four well-ventilated adjoining rooms in her house.

Bismarck Palm by Julia Loken

A fellow of the Society of Botanical Artists, Julia participates regularly in their annual exhibitions in London and, having lived in Eynsham for over 50 years, has hosted Artweeks exhibitions since 1985.

“I am very fortunate in having a large garden, where I can indulge my passion for plant collecting, and cultivate many of the plants that I wish to paint,” she says. “I also enjoy painting local landscapes.”

First Snow, Eynsham, by Julia Loken

For more than 35 years Julia has volunteered to spend one morning each week teaching plant drawing to young children at her local village school. She has also tried to instil in them a sense of wonder at the beauty of the natural world in our increasingly technological age.

“I am endlessly fascinated by the beauty and diversity of plant forms,” she says. Her exhibition runs from 11am-6pm on May 7 until May 9.

Picture of the week: 26/04/21

OXFORDSHIRE comes to life in intricate detail through the paintings of Jill Smith, our latest featured artist.

Born in London but living and painting in Oxfordshire, her “traditional” style makes her landscape paintings instantly recognisable – often the epitome of English life so often popularised through jigsaws and biscuit tins.

Childrey Pond by Jill Smith

But if her portrait of Childrey Pond in the Vale of Oxford looks as quintessentially English as you could get – and a flashback in time to a past century – all is perhaps not quite as it seems.

Although the Downland village close to Wantage has been known for its pond for centuries, by 2005 all was not well, with the village website describing it as a “smelly, muddy puddle with green weed and slime, which even the ducks shunned”.

A major restoration project was needed to restore the pond – and Jill’s portrait certainly portrays the village in all its glory and in the sort of fine detail for which she is perhaps best known.

Iffley Lock by Jill Smith

As an industrial chemist who later moved into IT, she says: “I think my ordered scientific background bleeds through in that my landscapes, flower studies and pet portraits are mostly realistic in style and quite detailed but from time to time I rebel from the traditional to let rip, splash paint about, see what happens and take it from there.”

Only too happy to try new techniques, Jill works in a variety of media from acrylics and oils to watercolours and linocuts and is largely self-taught – supported by attending various evening classes, painting workshops and the membership of local art societies.

Round the Bend at Buscot by Jill Smith

“When painting I aim to capture those fleeting light effects on the landscape or colour combinations that transform a scene and make it special,” she says. Frequently inspired by local landscapes, Jill is one of hundreds of local artists featured in the forthcoming May festival organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks.

Traditionally May is the month when hundreds of artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public and many of those exhibiting have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side.

This year her collection captures landscapes encountered out walking during lockdown, plus scenes from further afield, with a particular focus on her oil and acrylic paintings.

There is the added bonus of a ‘two-for-one’ visit with fellow artist Patsy Jones exhibiting her paintings and prints at the same COVID-secure sheltered outside venue in Patsy’s garden in Wantage.

“I’m lucky to be able to work in a spare bedroom that started out being organised but over time the flotsam and jetsam has spread to cover everywhere except the small desk where I sit to paint unless I’m working at an easel,” says Jill. “I’d love to invite you to view my ‘open studio’ but you’d hardly be able to sidle through the door.”

See the Oxfordshire Artweeks site for details of the venue, days and other artists. Jill’s work is featured on her website and instagram feed. The Wantage venue is open on May 14-16 and 21-23.

Picture of the week: 19/04/21

OUR picture choice this week takes us back to Oxfordshire and the striking work of artist and printmaker Jane Peart.

Jane is one of dozens of local artists whose work features in an online spring show organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks, a sneak preview of work available to buy during the forthcoming May festival.

Mist on the river, Waterperry by Jane Peart

Born in London, Jane graduated from the Ealing School of Art and worked in a design studio before moving to Oxford in 1978.

An avid printmaker, her work ranges from colourful acrylics to stunning etchings of birds and animals.

She has been exhibited all over the country and is a member of the Oxford Printmaker’s Cooperative and Oxford Art Society.

She says: “After many years of devoting my time to pencil and pen and ink drawings, I took up etching, which I love, although it is a very challenging and demanding medium. I now devote most of my creative energies to printmaking.”

Evening Light, Tuscany by Jane Peart

However her online exhibition this year shows off some of the paintings she has completed during lockdown.

“I have found it difficult this last year to produce any new etchings but I’ve enjoyed doing some different work,” she says. “Some of the paintings are from walks I’ve been on during lockdown. It’s opened my eyes to the beautiful scenery walking through the woods or by the river.”

Her pictures stray much further afield too, from the Pyrenees to Tuscany and even China. A flipbook accessible online contains more than 50 examples of her work.

Evening Light, Tuscany by Jane Peart

“For as long as I can remember I have always loved drawing,” she says. “My etchings have always been about trying to evoke the feel and atmosphere of the place that inspires me. When drawing animals and birds I strive to capture their character, endeavouring to show the texture of their fur, feathers and other aspects which make them unique.

“In recent times I have taken up painting in acrylics. One good thing about the lockdown has been the opportunity to work in another medium and discover new exciting things to do and I really love it!”

Many of the other artists exhibitiing at this year’s festival have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side, with local landscapes proving perennially popular subjects.

Traditionally May is the month that artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public.

The Spring Show is a seasonal collection celebrating the natural world as it awakens, awash with vivid greens, blues and golden yellows, hares and songbirds, blooms and blossom. It offers a sneak preview of what’s on offer through May, when more than 650 artists show off their creative talents.

Despite lockdown restrictions, this year there will still be dozens of secure pop-up galleries and studio exhibitions to visit across the county, with another 500 available online.

Picture of the week: 12/04/21

OUR picture choice this week takes us to Abingdon in Oxfordshire and the work of artist Dougie Simpson, which features as part of the UK’s oldest and biggest open studio event next month.

An online spring show organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks offers a sneak preview of work by more than 200 local artists which will be available to buy during the organisation’s forthcoming May festival.

Thames Street, Abingdon by Dougie Simpson

Dougie, who comes originally from Scotland, was relocated to work in Wallingford in 2005, retiring 10 years later.

During a year-long period of rest and recuperation in Venice, he started attending drawing classes and art workshops held at the Bottega del Tinteretto.

“I’m very keen on attending art courses and workshops both here and in Europe,” he says. “Since I started exhibiting four years ago, my work and range of subject matter has developed and increased in popularity.

“Several of my pictures have be found in the USA. Understandably I use the opportunities when I travel to paint outside. So you will find a selection of landscapes and cityscapes amongst my paintings.”

Abingdon Bridge by Dougie Simpson

Dougie will be exhibiting with alongside a quartet of other artists known as the Abbey Group in St Nicolas’ Church in the centre of Abingdon, showing a selection of watercolours and pen-and-wash paintings.

The Abbey Group exhibition runs from May 17-22 from 10am-5pm.

Many of the other artists exhibitiing at this year’s festival have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side, with local landscapes proving perennially popular subjects.

Traditionally May is the month that artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public.

The Spring Show is a seasonal collection celebrating the natural world as it awakens, awash with vivid greens, blues and golden yellows, hares and songbirds, blooms and blossom. It offers a sneak preview of what’s on offer through May, when more than 650 artists show off their creative talents.

Despite lockdown restrictions, this year there will still be dozens of secure pop-up galleries and studio exhibitions to visit across the county, with another 500 available online.

Picture of the week: 05/04/21

THIS week’s picture choice takes us north to Milton Keynes and a quite extraordinary rewilding success story we first featured back in 2018.

Gazing out over a bare field in 1990 it would have been hard to believe that a humble couple of acres of cow pasture could become a veritable wildlife haven.

But Roy and Marie Battell’s transformation of the two acres has been inspiring. Today there are hundreds of trees – plus four ponds and meadows attracting a huge cross-section of wildlife.

Over the years the couple’s website depicting life in the nature reserve has developed something an international reputation.

The woods provide a home for all types of birds, insects and mammals with various trail cameras monitoring the movements of visitors ranging from sparrowhawks and kestrels to foxes, badgers and deer.

Dozens of loyal followers sign up for Roy’s weekly newsletter, which chronicles the changing landscape through the seasons, and his carefully chronicled pictures have appeared in a many wildlife textbooks.

His latest weekly selection is a fairly representative snapshot of life with the “Moorhens”, capturing everything from rooks and magpies gathering nesting materials to hungry squirrels, strutting pheasants and hunting owls.

It’s the quality of Roy’s photographs, coupled with his painstaking attention to detail in chronicling and recording the animals’ movements, which has attracted the interest of enthusiasts and academics around the world.

He sends these out every week to around 100 subscribers, while the archives provide an invaluable day-by-day record of the the extraordinary transformation they have achieved on their doorstep. To sign up for the weekly email, visit their website.

Picture of the week: 29/03/21

“I CAN barely remember a time when I didn’t paint, or wasn’t thinking about painting,” says Sue Graham.

Last week the Chilterns artist took us to the west coast of Scotland as she reflected on the challenges of a year like no other, and the need to put a remarkable family rewilding adventure on hold because of the pandemic and ongoing hospital treatment for cancer.

But this week’s picture choice takes us to the other end of the country and a hamlet on the edge of Dartmoor called Water.

BABBLING BROOK: Water, Dartmoor, oil on canvas board by Sue Graham

“Some of my favourite paths wind through it, crunching along stream beds, splashing through rivulets,” says Sue. “And everywhere there’s the music of water, gurgling, burbling, dripping. Such a life-affirming place.

“Parts of the trail are not quite stream, not quite path: my walking boots make a resonant crunching splash. There’s a half-derelict cottage on the edge of the path. It has the best location.”

Closer to home, another location with a story to tell is Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

“This painting marked a bit of a stylistic turning point for me in that it was my first mixed-media piece: I used spray paint, paint diffuser (that’s like a right-angled straw with a hole that you blow into), acrylic ink and acrylic paint,” says Sue.

SOUNDS OF SUMMER: Henley on Thames, Swifts by Sue Graham

Known for her colourful, expressive and atmospheric paintings in acrylics and oils, Sue frequently finds inspiration in natural landscapes and soundscapes.

“There is nothing (other than blackbird song, maybe) that brings me into a state of summery bliss than the screaming sounds of swifts. It’s the sound of childhood summers, of long evenings, of softness in the air, of possibilities as yet undreamed of.

“In this painting I tried to evoke that sense of ethereal joy: to honour the beauty of the bridge at Henley, without being over-literal in its depiction – photographs can do that better. I wanted to convey the the flow of the Thames and capture the sweetness of an early morning in summer, with the human world not yet making its presence felt, just the flow of water below with swifts wheeling overhead.”

Picture of the week: 22/03/21

IT’S BEEN an extraordinary year in which countless people’s hopes and dreams have been frustrated, shattered or put on hold.

No one knows that better than Chilterns artist Sue Graham, whose family rewilding adventure featured on these pages last spring, when she explained how a series of paintings inspired by her love of the dawn chorus prompted her family to buy a croft and start planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

FOND MEMORIES: Argyll Dreaming by Sue Graham, acrylic on poster board

Her painting Argyll Dreaming is our picture choice this week, taking us on a particularly poignant virtual journey back to the beautiful lochside roads that lead from Glasgow to Tayinloan, from where you can catch the 20-minute ferry to the Isle of Gigha in the Inner Hebrides.

It’s the first of two instalments looking at Sue’s most recent work and follows an article in September last year focused on her landscapes from the other end of the country, in Cornwall.

Says Sue: “The painting came to me during Lockdown 2, when (like everybody else) I was longing to get away somewhere. I missed the lochs and the empty spaces of Scotland’s wild west coast. 

“When our family planted a native woodland at the croft back in November 2019, we had no idea what challenges lay ahead; for us, for everyone.”

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: the first wave of planting, back in 2019

Back in those innocent days the worst of their worries was the possibility of voles damaging the tiny saplings – and competition from grass.

Sue recalls: “We planned a schedule of regular island visits to remove grass, check the vole guards, erect perch poles for birds of prey and keep an eye on our nascent Atlantic rainforest. And then two unexpected things happened: serious health challenges for me and a global pandemic.”

Covid restrictions and cancer treatment through the spring and summer of 2020 made it impossible to travel, although a friend on the island – the local ferryman – reported that the trees were ‘growing well’ – but so was the grass.

“Once the first lockdown eased our two sons, Tom and JP, travelled from Glasgow to Gigha and made a valiant start on the great grass cut-back, sowing grass-parasitic yellow rattle in the hope that this will help keep the grass under control in future years,” Sue explains.

OPEN OUTLOOK: the spectacular Gigha coastline

“When Gabriel and I finally got to Gigha in early October 2020 – almost one full year since planting the woodland – the grass was thigh-high in places, with some feisty trees waist-high, and some less rugged species struggling to breathe in vole guards full of grass.”

Despite days of back-breaking work to clear the saplings of grass, the project has been a resounding success, with the young trees enjoying a 95% survival rate to date.

Having added a small orchard and ‘edible hedge’ to the croft, with a view to encouraging pollinators, the family also made two new native tree additions.

Says Sue: “Gabriel and JP joined the Woodland Trust back in 2016 and were sent a native tree each: an oak and a rowan, all of 25cm tall when they came in the post. Now 7ft tall and repeatedly outgrowing their pots, it was high time for them to move north.

TREES IN TRANSIT: an oak and rowan head north

“So while they were dormant we packed them up, just about fitting them in the car (though the rowan was stroking our cheeks as we drove).

Rowans have a long tradition in European folklore – especially for warding off witches. An islander suggested we plant one so it seemed the perfect fit to situate this lovely young tree near the mill leat at the entrance to the croft. No witch infestation here!”

WARDING OFF WITCHES: the rowan in its new position at the croft

Gigha was set to be a bold new chapter in the family story – but of course that was before the coronavirus crisis and personal health setbacks forced Sue to remain in Buckinghamshire for another year.

Working from the top of their home in Long Crendon near Thame, she has missed exhibiting during the pandemic and her ongoing cancer treatment has posed its own challenges.

But those happy thoughts of the west coast of Scotland have provided one source of inspiration and comfort.

HOME FROM HOME: using compression stockings from surgery to secure the oak

“We’ll get back to Gigha to check on everything as soon as we can,” she says. “We can’t wait to see the trees in leaf and see how much they grow this year.

“Whatever considerable difficulties have come our way recently there is an overwhelming positive sense that we are leaving something potentially beautiful behind for the future in this extraordinary place, a good feeling that we’re trying to give something back to the earth.”

Next week: Sue “escapes” to Dartmoor and Henley-on-Thames

Picture of the week: 15/03/21

OUR picture choice this week takes us to West Oxfordshire and the work of Eynsham artist Eric White.

Morning Frost is one of a number of striking images depicting landscapes within a mile or so of Eric’s home in the small historic village some six miles north-west of Oxford.

Morning Frost by Eric White

Like many of his recent pictures, it was created with an initial foundation in acrylic inks and subsequently built up with layers of soft pastel, reflecting a love affair with pastels dating back decades.

Eric recalls: “Having initially worked in watercolour and oils, my focus changed when I was given an expensive boxed set of 72 pastels. Initially daunted by such a gift I took my first tentative steps into the medium and was immediately hooked.

“That was some thirty years ago and since then the majority of my output has been in pastel in one form or another, from pure pastel to pastels worked over watercolour or acrylics and pastel screen prints.”

By The Evenlode by Eric White

Although entirely self-taught, painting and drawing was to become his lifelong interest and passion, endless experimentation and decades of practice helping him to evolve a flexible and personal style.

His galleries range from Cotswolds villages and Oxford townscapes to local landscapes and paintings taken much further afield, from France and Italy to Iceland, Morocco and America.

The locations may vary but his chief goals remain the same, he explains: “to capture the moment and to endow the image with a sense of place and atmosphere”.

Woodpile by Eric White

“Although I work from sketches and photos the challenge is always holding that sense of place and of the moment to capture the essence of the scene. I go out in all weathers – sometimes holding a pencil in the cold can be the biggest challenge of them all.”

Commissions have resulted in paintings of houses and gardens, from the humble to the grand, cricket club grounds and sporting scenes, along with more abstract work for business premises, and he even tackled a portrait as part of the NHS Portrait for Heroes project during the first lockdown.

Travel opportunities may have been limited this year – some coastal views from north Devon before movement restrictions were in place – but that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for the great outdoors.

“There’s beauty to be found everywhere in your local area if you look for it and I always try to make the most of the changing seasons,” he says. “Out walking during the various lockdowns my wife and I have spotted woodpeckers feeding their young, boxing hares and countless varieties of bird including our local abundance of yellowhammers. You can always count on the song of the skylarks to lift your spirits.”

Eric’s work can be found on his website and Instagram account.

Picture of the week: 08/03/21

IT’S not every day you come face to face with a weasel.

But that’s certainly one of the most memorable wildlife encounters enjoyed by Nick Bell, the Maidenhead photographer whose pictures have been in the spotlight on this page for the past couple of weeks.

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: a weasel pauses long enough to be pictured PICTURE: Nick Bell

Stoats and weasels aren’t that unusual in the British countryside, but you don’t get to see them very often other than a quick flash as they streak for cover.

Nick recalls: “I was walking along a path in Ockwells Park, early on a crisp, beautiful March day, when the weasel ran across the path right in front of me.

“It jumped up onto the bottom rail of the fence and, when it came to a break in the undergrowth, stopped and looked at me, no doubt wondering if it could make it past me with no undergrowth to hide it, just long enough for me to get its photo.

“I wasn’t sure if it was a stoat or a weasel, so I did some research. I discovered that a stoat is the size of a cucumber and a weasel the size of a sausage. Stoats also have longer tails than weasels.”

HIDE AND SEEK: a grey squirrel appears to be in playful mood PICTURE: Nick Bell

Some animals are more obliging when it comes to posing for the camera, like the inquisitive grey squirrel which looks as if it’s playing a game of hide and seek.

Mustelids like stoats, weasels, badgers and otters all pose more of a challenge because they generally tend to be active at night, which makes them elusive.

Foxes and deer are timid too, but a little easier to stumble across if you are light on your feet and approach quite cautiously.

FUN AND GAMES: young foxes at play PICTURE: Nick Bell

“I get to see occasional foxes during my walks,” says Nick. “The day that I saw two was unusual, though. They were a couple of young foxes. I watched them play fighting for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was a complete delight. They were at the far end of a field, so I couldn’t get the best photos of them, but it was still a great experience.”

WATCHFUL EYE: a fox appears to be staring straight at the camera PICTURE: Nick Bell

Our previous selections have focused on Nick’s pictures of insects and birds, taken in a variety of locations near his home patch in Maidenhead. He was born in Cookham and moved back to the area after taking early retirement at the age of 61.

But mammals pose their own challenges – and rewards.

SPRING SETTING: a roe deer in the woods among the bluebells PICTURE: Nick Bell

Says Nick: “There are some spots in and around Ockwells Park where I know you are likely to see deer. The great thing about photographing them is that they usually stand absolutely still, no doubt thinking that that will prevent you from seeing them.

“My favourite time to photograph them is when the bluebells are out in the woods. Sometimes, they decide to run for it, and leap in the air as they run, which is great for photos.

ON THE RUN: a deer scampers for cover PICTURE: Nick Bell

“One of my most disappointing ‘near misses’ in a photo was when I spotted a very young roe deer kid standing in front of its mother in the woods. I had time for one photo only before they were gone. The photo was, sadly, not in focus. Oh well; you win some and you lose some.”

BALL OF FLUFF: a gosling among the daisies PICTURE: Nick Bell

From cute goslings to fast-moving dragonflies, Nick’s broad range of subjects have provided a lot of pleasure on local wildlife forums.

“I have heard it said many times during the coronavirus pandemic that many of us are using nature for relaxation during lockdowns. That is certainly true of me,” says Nick.

“Wildlife photography has undoubtedly helped with my mental health during these difficult times. Being outside with nature helps to ground me and to relieve stress. I usually get home with a great sense of well-being.”

NATURAL CURE: an early morning walk provides great stress relief PICTURE: Nick Bell

Picture of the week: 01/03/21

THE great thing about wildlife photography is the extent to which it immerses you in the landscape.

Capturing the perfect shot means being in just the right place at the right time – and no one knows that better than Nick Bell, whose stunning insect photographs were in the spotlight last week.

BIRD ON THE WIRE: birds silhouetted against a huge sun PICTURE: Nick Bell

This week the focus is on Nick’s bird photographs, starting with a quite extraordinary silhouette taken on one of his forays into the countryside around his Maidenhead home.

The picture was taken at dawn in Ockwells Park, part of which is a local nature reserve.

“I think of each trip out as an opportunity to relax with nature, but also as an opportunity for exercise, so I tend to walk two to four miles on every trip out,” says Nick.

MOUTHS TO FEED: a pair of young kestrels PICTURE: Nick Bell

“This means that I move through different types of habitat – eg by water or through woods – and so see different types of wildlife. Get out there early, ideally for sunrise, when there are fewer people around and the wildlife is most active.”

Although Nick is a relative newcomer to wildlife photography, he has thrown himself wholeheartedly into it since his retirement a couple of years ago and has been a prolific contributor to online nature groups like Wild Maidenhead, Wild Marlow and Wild Cookham.

EYE FOR DETAIL: Cliveden House viewed through a water drop PICTURE: Nick Bell

He has also quickly demonstrated his extraordinary eye for detail and for pictures with dramatically different perspectives, like his unusual portrait of Cliveden House in a water drop or of his own reflection in a horse’s eye.

“Look for slight movements or variations in colour, constantly,” he advises like-minded enthusiasts wanting to capture the natural world on camera.

SELF-PORTRAIT: the photographer reflected in a horse’s eye PICTURE: Nick Bell

“Look up, look down, look to both sides. Look in the distance and also look nearby. You can so easily miss a photo opportunity if you’re not constantly alert,” he says. “Don’t be disheartened if you don’t seem to be seeing much. I can walk for two miles without seeing anything. Then, there’ll suddenly be a flurry of activity.

“In time, you’ll get to know where you’re most likely to see wildlife. In these areas, move slowly and quietly. In the best areas, stand still for five or ten minutes or so. The wildlife will come to you. Always creep round corners, in case there’s something just round the other side. Have your camera ready, just in case.

FLYING HIGH: a Canada goose in transit PICTURE: Nick Bell

“When you see something, photograph it immediately, even if it’s far away. Then gradually creep closer, taking more photographs every few steps.

“Photos are more interesting if the subject is doing something. So, for example, when I photograph a robin, I wait for it to start singing before I press the shutter button. A singing robin makes a better photo than a silent one.”

VALENTINE’S DAY: a robin in the snow PICTURE: Nick Bell

It helps if your subject is prepared to pose in just the right place long enough to provide you with the perfect Valentine’s Day portrait too!

But a closer look at some of Nick’s most striking pictures shows that there always seems to be something happening to capture our attention, whether that means a bird gobbling a tasty treat or red kites swooping and tumbling against a clear blue sky.

CHILTERNS FAVOURITE: red kites at play PICTURE: Nick Bell

“Eyes are everything!” Nick is keen to emphasise. “I rarely keep a photo of any animal if I don’t have its eye clearly visible or well illuminated.

“Goldfinches can be quite a challenge, as their eyes often don’t show up well. The same goes for blackbirds and crows. Try to photograph them with their eyes in sunlight. When focusing the camera, try to focus specifically on the subject’s eye.”

THE EYES HAVE IT: a little owl perches among the branches PICTURE: Nick Bell

A zoom lens makes all the difference, he admits: “I started with a 16-300mm lens, then moved onto am 18-400mm lens, then onto a 150-600mm lens. Each lens change resulted in great improvements in my photos.

“I now use the 18-400mm lens for subjects that are close to me, like insects, and the 150-600mm lens for anything further away. 600mm lenses are heavy! I bought a dual camera harness that puts all of the weight on my shoulders, rather than on my neck. It makes carrying two big lenses (one on each side) relatively easy.”

ON SONG: a yellowhammer provides a rousing chorus PICTURE: Nick Bell

The pictures are taken in a variety of locations near Nick’s home patch in Maidenhead. He was born in Cookham, but lived in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire from 1994, until moving back to Maidenhead and taking early retirement at the age of 61.

An active marathon runner, he took up modern jive dancing in 2009. “I have been hooked on it ever since, competing in national competitions the last eight years or so,” he reveals. “I’ve been lucky enough to compete at Blackpool Tower Ballroom several times.”

KNOCK, KNOCK: a green woodpecker searches for food PICTURE: Nick Bell

In comparison, wildlife photography must seem positively sedentary, though Nick will happily roam a few miles in search of the perfect subject.

“Every day out gives me great pleasure,” he confirms. Thanks to his photographs, those are special moments we can all get a chance to share.

TASTY TREAT: a song thrush rustles up breakfast PICTURE: Nick Bell

And that is particularly valuable when such snapshots frozen in time are often hard to capture on family rambles, when our conversation may scare wildlife away, or a sudden rustle in the bushes is the only evidence that an insect, bird or tiny mammal is close at hand.

Depending on the available light, Nick will use a high aperture or fast shutter speed to freeze a movement, especially when dealing with fast-moving insects or birds like goldcrests, which never stop moving.

COLOUR CONTRASTS: starlings stand out against bright red berries PICTURE: Nick Bell

Insects and mammals feature just as frequently in his pictures, but sometimes it can be the early morning sky or the shadows in the woods at dusk that catch his eye.

“Those are the best times,” he says. “When you can stand silently, enjoying warm early morning sunshine, and being alone with nature, with no other people around.”

EARLY BIRDS: geese at sunrise PICTURE: Nick Bell

Next week: Our final selection of Nick’s pictures turns the spotlight on mammals

Picture of the week: 22/02/21

NICK Bell’s never been one to shy away from a challenge.

His participation in no fewer than 18 London marathons can testify to his energy and a more recent fascination with modern jive dancing has seen him strutting his stuff in national competitions at the famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that taking up a new retirement hobby a couple of years ago would see him throwing himself with just as much enthusiasm into the world of wildlife photography.

FROZEN IN FLIGHT: a southern hawker dragonfly PICTURE: Nick Bell

His output has been prolific, encompassing such a broad range of subjects that it needs a three-part series to do justice to his new-found passion, starting with a selection of photographs this week focusing on the smallest details of insect life.

“I took early retirement at the age of 61 two years ago,” says Nick. “With the start of the first lockdown, I took up wildlife photography and bought myself a 600mm lens, which I now couldn’t be without.”

That lens has allowed him to capture some extraordinary sights – none more dramatic than our picture choice this week of a southern hawker dragonfly in flight, captured at Stonor Park.

Nick recalls: “There were two or three of them flying over the ponds. They just wouldn’t keep still, so it was really difficult to photograph them. That photo was the best one from thirty minutes of attempting to photograph them. The great light that day helped, too. It was bright enough for me to us a very fast shutter speed – 1/4000th second.”

The large inquisitive dragonflies differ in colour between the male – dark with blue and green markings and the female, which is brown with green markings.

Common across the Chilterns, hawkers prefer non-acidic water and may breed in garden ponds but hunts well away from water, often hawking woodland rides well into the evening.

POLLEN COUNT: fine detail captured on a visiting bee PICTURE: Nick Bell

Other attention-grabbing shots range from flies, beetles and bees to a startling close-up of a wasp spider dangling by a thread.

UNDER COVER: a ladybird potentially unaware of its prey PICTURE: Nick Bell

For the technically minded, Nick explains that the lens which helped to transform his photos is a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens.

READY TO DROP: a bee captured over a poppy PICTURE: Nick Bell

“I also use a Tamron 18-400mm lens for close-up photography. I haven’t really got into macro photography, but it’s something that I want to do,” says Nick.

His studies capture a glorious range of colours and fine detail, as in his portrait of a banded demoiselle damselfly, a large fluttering insect with butterfly-like wings and spectacular metallic colouring.

METALLIC GLINT: a banded demoiselle damselfly PICTURE: Nick Bell

Other insects to catch Nick’s eye include the common darter, one of the most common dragonflies in Europe, but not always as obliging about posing for photographs as this one.

PERFECT POSE: a common darter dragonfly PICTURE: Nick Bell

The pictures are taken in a variety of locations near Nick’s home patch in Maidenhead, with the surrounding fields and woods sometimes taking centre stage too, providing a gorgeous backcloth to the fine detail of the insect, bird and animal studies.

SHADOWLANDS: local woodland provides an atmospheric backdrop PICTURE: Nick Bell

Dramatic colour contrasts range from tiny green aphids exploring a yellow rose to the distinctive body colouring of the wasp spider, a recent arrival in the UK from the continent which has slowly spread over the south of England.

TINY TERRORS: aphids on a rose PICTURE: Nick Bell

It builds large orb webs in grassland and heathland, looking just like a common wasp to keep it safe from predators, even though it is not dangerous itself.

That clever disguise may work with predators but it’s no defence for male spiders coming into close contact with their much larger female counterparts, who are prone to eat the males during mating!

CLEVER MIMIC: a wasp spider keeps predators at bay PICTURE: Nick Bell

Some of the fastest-moving insects and birds pose the biggest tests of both camera and photographer. But then that just adds a bit of spice to the chase for someone who has risen to the different disciplines of marathon running and jive dancing.

“I love taking challenging photos – like fast-moving dragonflies and birds,” says Nick. “In my retirement, I run, dance and take photos – not a bad life!”

Next week: Nick’s focus switches to local birdlife

Picture of the week: 15/02/21

FACED with another week of lockdown, escapism is the theme of this week’s picture choice – in terms of theme, period and geography.

So while our chilly Chilterns landscape continues to provide plenty of inspiration for local artists and photographers, our weekly feature is taking a trip a little further afield – and a step back in time to the unsettling period between the wars when Eric Ravilious was at the height of his powers.

Train Going over a Bridge at Night, Eric Ravilious, 1935

Raised in Eastbourne, the outstanding British painter and designer is particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs, and he remains as popular as ever almost 80 years after his early wartime death, when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland.

For the definitive story of the artist’s home life, the people and places he knew and the culture and customs of 1930s England, essays by art historian, lecturer and curator James Russell feature in a series of volumes published by The Mainstone Press collecting many of his most memorable watercolours.

Wiltshire Landscape, Eric Ravilious, 1937

Various other profiles fill in fascinating details about his work and life – including Paul Laity in The Guardian and Frank Delaney – while Henry Rothwell pays frequent tribute to Ravilious in his Twitter account @HenryRothwell.

More recently Rothwell has launched a trio of greetings cards featuring the artist’s work accompanied by short explanations by James Russell, whose published works include RaviliousRavilious in Pictures 1: Sussex and the DownsRavilious in Pictures 2: The War PaintingsRavilious in Pictures 3: A Country LifeRavilious in Pictures 4: A Travelling Artist, and Ravilious: Submarine.

Russell writes of Ravilious in his blog: “I love the fact that his watercolours and designs are both enjoyable and serious, light-hearted yet powerful, dream-like but rooted in reality.”

Wet Afternoon, Eric Ravilious, 1928

Although he settled in Essex and roved as far afield as Wiltshire and Wales, as captured in his Wet Afternoon portrait from Powys in 1928, Ravilious rediscovered the South Downs in 1934 and over the next five years painted a series of watercolours capturing the beauty of the Sussex landscape.

In a Youtube tribute in 2019, Tom Outdoors embarks on a six-mile circular walk in Essex following in the footsteps of the artist, visiting the church where a war memorial commemorates him and walking through the fields and woods that inspired some of his work.

As an official war artist, Ravilious visited ports, naval bases and airfields around Britain, witnessed the Allied invasion and retreat from Norway and produced watercolours of subjects ranging from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to the interior of a mobile pigeon loft.

He was only 39 when he died in 1942, yet he had already achieved amazing things. A brilliant wood engraver and designer, he remains best known for those haunting watercolours in which lighthouses, white horses, empty rooms and downland paths came to life. 

The Vale of the White Horse, Eric Ravilious c1939 PICTURE: Tate Gallery

Ravilious was an enigmatic figure who made little public comment on his work, but in his books and blog entries James Russell manages to piece together many of the jigsaw pieces of the artist’s short life.

And at a time when so many families have been taking a fresh look at their local landscapes, this seems a good week to spend a few moments in the company of Eric Ravilious; luminous, evocative and timeless, his extraordinary watercolours reflect the talents of an artist now regarded as one of the finest of the 20th century.

Train Landscape, Eric Ravilious, 1939 PICTURE: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

Picture of the week: 08/02/21

YOU’RE never too young to show an interest in nature – and to prove the point this week’s Picture of the Week is a stunning photograph taken by 11-year-old Sahasi Upadhya on a family walk at Little Chalfont.

CLOUD PATTERNS: crouching low creates a different perspective PICTURE: Sahasi Upadhya

Dad Siddharth is a keen photographer too but says his daughter started showing an interest after seeing him using his camera.

“I have since encouraged her by talking about the basics and left her to experiment on her own,” he says. “She just started off a couple of months ago and has been picking up pace now.”

Says Sahasi: “I had to crouch to take this picture to get the right angle of the sun lighting the clouds and get the right perspective of the subject against the blue sky.”

BACK TO NATURE: blue bracket fungi in Penn Woods PICTURE: Sahasi Upadhya

Sahasi has taken some equally attention-grabbing shots of colourful fungi and foliage on recent outings in Penn Woods using her dad’s Nikon D7000 Dslr.

“A single bit of nature can express so many different things as each person looks at it from different point of view,” she explains. “This is what draws me most to nature.”

COLOUR CONTRASTS: another study in Penn Woods PICTURE: Sahasi Upadhya

Her love of nature is reflected in her art too, where she particularly enjoys Madhubani painting, an Indian art form in which tribal motifs are brought to life with bright colours where nature can often figure prominently.

Siddarth says: “She is drawn to the colours and the flexibility the art form offers, from doing simple motifs to intermediate and very intricate ones.”

PROUD PEACOCK: Sahasi’s latest painting reflects a number of natural motifs

Madhubani art incorporates set motifs and symbols, but each artist will have a unique individual approach to these.

“The peacock is a common motif in Madhubani paintings and this one is Sahasi’s take on it,” Siddarth explains.

The paintings were traditionally done on freshly plastered mud walls and floors of huts in the Mithila region of India, with villagers around Madhubani later creating them on cloth, paper and canvas using colours derived from plants.

Picture of the week: 01/02/21

OUR picture choice for the first week in February is a suitably chilly landscape by Oxfordshire artist Maureen Gillespie.

It is one of a series of paintings reflecting Maureen’s “lockdown walk” around the beautiful landscaped grounds of Blenheim Palace, north of Woodstock town centre.

Blue Landscape – Blenheim by Maureen Gillespie

She recalls: “On this particular day it was bitterly cold, -3 degrees. Looking across the lake, the scene before me was shades of blue, with a slight mist over the trees in the background.”

Maureen’s passion is to create pieces of artwork that bring a sensory experience to the viewer, working in oil and incorporating pastel into some of her work to give a textured dimension to the finished piece.

“I use a variety of techniques to obtain the desired result,” she explains. “This could include brushwork, scoring with a palette knife and the use of my fingers, especially for the moody skies.”

View from Bladon Bridge by Maureen Gillespie

Influenced by the impressionists, especially Claude Monet and JMW Turner, she is inspired by nature in her land and seascapes, capturing the mood, light and atmosphere of moments from walks by the coast and countryside – the light on a wave or the glimmer of sunlight through the trees.

INSPIRED BY NATURE: Maureen in her garden studio

Another picture in her Blenheim series is View from Bladon Bridge. She says: “It was a cold but rather grey day where the sky seemed to blend into the lake.  I wanted to convey the stillness of the lake and the almost sepia-like colour and total calm apart from a few ducks dotted about.”

Maureen works from quick sketches and photos, which she then transfers on to board in her garden studio, “a perfect location to capture the wonder of some amazing nature studies”.

A regular participant in Oxfordshire Artweeks and a member of Chipping Norton Arts, Maureen has also exhibited in Ireland, France, Jersey and the Cotswolds since returning to full-time art more than a decade ago.

The third of her featured artworks this week is another from the Blenheim series. She recalls: “One of my favourite walks, this was towards the end of autumn. There was a slight early morning mist on the lake, giving it an eerie atmosphere.

The Edge of the Lake by Maureen Gillespie

“I am a regular walker (with my dogs, Billie and Aggie) as this offers me a great source of inspiration and exercise. 

“Just as lockdown was introduced I received the all-clear from breast cancer; thankfully I had all my treatment. So having stayed positive throughout a difficult year, I wasn’t going to let lockdown get me down!

“My walks varied but as I live on the edge of Blenheim estate this was the natural lengthy walk and of couse stunning scenery allowing me to take in the seasons along the way.”

Maureen can be found on her website, Instagram and Facebook. She also designs a range of silk scarves reproduced from her original artwork, which can be found here.

Picture of the week: 25/01/21

OUR Picture of the Week normally focuses on artists inspired by the Chilterns landscape, but just occasionally it’s good to venture a little further afield.

Maybe lockdown restrictions make us only more aware of the vistas that we’re not allowed to visit for the moment, like the mountains, lakes, seaside and dales of the Lake District.

And no one captures those landscapes in quite such vibrant and vivid colour as our guest artist this week, Mark A Pearce, a painter and printmaker brought up in Cumbria.

Ringed Plovers over Ravenglass by Mark A Pearce

Mark pursued a successful career in London as an award-winning graphic designer and co-founded a design consultancy in the 1990s, which by the time it was bought had more than 30 employees around the world and had been involved in a number of famous brand overhauls.

Now 64, he returned to the Lake District in 2006, where he now works from a home studio with panoramic views over the Ravenglass estuary and Lakeland fells, producing a range of oils, watercolours, pastels, and limited-edition reduction wood and linocuts (like our featured picture choice, above).

Autumn Migration by Mark A Pearce

It’s an extraordinary landscape where the mountains almost reach the shore and three rivers meet to form a perfect estuary, allowing Mark freedom to explore his excitement in the light effects, striking compositions and eye-catching colour combinations that are literally on his doorstep.

“In this beautiful part of the lakes it’s the skies, colours and the effect of the changing light on the water, sky and mountains that are particularly inspiring,” he says.

He always goes out with a camera so he can capture what is about him in real time and take it back to the studio to get it down on paper to share his wonder in the natural world.

Sunlight Through Trees by Mark A Pearce

“I get outside whenever the weather and work allow, and often spend an entire day walking out on the fells alone with the camera,” he says. “It always lifts my mood.”

His galleries range from original reduction linocuts like Autumn Migration to fine-art prints and original oils.

While some landscapes look reassuringly familiar to Chilterns residents, others are strikingly different views of mountains and coastline, often featuring wildfowl in flight, like those at St Bees Head, the county’s most westerly point, where the RSPB has a reserve.

Geese St Bees Head by Mark A Pearce

His home studio was set up in 2010 with his sister and business partner Sarah Bell, who helps to promote and market his work, both locally and further afield.

LAKESIDE VIEWS: Mark Pearce in his home studio PICTURE: Alan Cleaver

He says he rediscovered his own love of creating art partly due to necessity and having to earn a living, and partly his desire to be able to share with other people his view of the natural world in terms of colour, light and composition.

His interest now lies particularly with the format of lino and woodcuts due to their graphic nature. But if his linocuts are attention-grabbing in their use of colour, his oils are equally interesting, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of a family beach walk, spring riverbank, pine forest or rocky outcrop.

Beach Walk by Mark A Pearce

“I absolutely loved living in London: the energy, the culture and the night life,” says Mark. “Although I don’t miss the stress of the constant deadlines or the staying up till 3am to get a client’s brief finished, I couldn’t do that now.

“Having no distractions here gives me time to think and create.  I paint/print what I see, out of the window, on the beach or on the fells. I feel inspired to capture that moment so I can share my excitement of the effects of the light and  shadows in the landscape.”

Visit Mark’s website for details of forthcoming events and exhibitions, opening times of the Estuary Views Tea Room & Gallery in Rosegarth, Ravenglass and details of his online shop.

Picture of the week: 17/01/21

THE stunning colours in this week’s picture choice capture the spirit of the extraordinary landscapes produced by Oxfordshire artist and art teacher Sue Side.

Sunningwell Field by Sue Side

Based in the village of Cumnor near Oxford, Sue uses graphite and ink to tell the stories hidden in the local environment of tree, copse, land and sky.

“My journey to saying ‘I am an artist’ has been a slow one,” says Sue. “I’ve had a pencil and sketchbook in my hand for as long as I can remember and despite choosing the teaching profession as a career, have never stopped creating, learning and creating.

“I’m head of art at a fantastic school [The Manor Preparatory School in Abingdon] and I focus on close looking with my young learners.

“We look – really look – at the world around us and then we interpret, through drawing, painting, sculpture. The aim is to encourage exploration and response – to not worry about finding the right word or the ‘correct answer’.

“Their ideas and responses always surprise and excite. These inspire me and feed back into my own thinking.”

Sharing Light by Sue Side

As an artist, Sue specialises in illustration and portraiture. She exhibits regularly as a member of The Oxford Art Society, takes part in Oxfordshire Artweeks annually and has been selected to exhibit with The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Watercolour Society and The Society of Graphic Fine Arts.

She also exhibits in local galleries and in 2013 completed the artist teacher scheme at Oxford Brookes.

“My art has evolved,” Sue admits. “It is good to be able to explore different elements of art practice. I never get bored! I am at my most comfortable with a pencil or pen – they feel like an extension of my hand. I like the direct connection created between me and the paper as well as the range of marks you gain from using them. It feels elemental, basic. No fuss, no disguise.”

Those Dreaming Spires by Sue Side

Sue finds herself particularly drawn to stories hidden in the local landscape.

“Here the human story seems insubstantial and fleeting against the vast stage of nature,” she explains. “I enjoy watching the slow interaction between trees and the way they settle in the landscape. From their mossy root systems to their light-seeking crowns, my work focuses on these incredible carbon storehouses and the symbiotic environment they are part of.”

Filmmaker Will Side produced a study of her artistic process filmed over a period of months and capturing the creation of an artwork from inception to completion.

Inklines, a video portrait of Sue at work by filmmaker Will Side

Her work includes portraits, etchings and drawings, but the past year has brought her into intimate contact with the woods and byways near her home.

“Wandering deep in Wytham Wood, which I am so lucky to live near, always brings a lift to the heart and peace to the soul,” says Sue. “The last year, for obvious pandemic reasons, has taken me down every path and byway of Oxfordshire, giving me a wealth of new material.

“Our local poet, Matthew Arnold, used to wander the fields near Oxford saying that it helped him escape the ‘repeated shocks’ and the ‘harsh, heart-wearying roar’ of the world (The Scholar-Gypsy). How true that has been for me this year! Walking our woods and gentle hills has brought me some solace, as well as lots of new ideas for artworks.”

Ridgeway + Copse by Sue Side

Using ink techniques, Sue explores the atmosphere of forest and tree in all their woody detail.

“I enjoy using ink – it can be both fluid and precise,” she says. “The clarity of inky colour is intense. It sits well in my illustrations; creating contrast between the inky depths of the deep woods and gentle translucent skies.

“It does have its own mind though. I like this – starting a work and not being absolutely sure how it will end up!

Midsummer by Sue Side

Sue is also fascinated by the behaviour of starling flocks as they settle in their treetop roosts at RSPB Otmoor Nature Reserve. She has a series of works capturing their amazing murmurations; thousands of individually ink-drawn birds overlapping one another again and again to create a quite remarkable fluidity of aerial display.

“It is only close up you see the pattern, the purpose and togetherness of these starling flocks,” she says. “A little like family, a starling murmuration is a story of protection, sharing, gossiping and the joy of homecoming on darker winter days.”

Winter roost by Sue Side

See Sue’s website , Instagram feed and Facebook page for details of her cards, prints and original works for sale, along with blog entries and news about forthcoming exhibitions.

Picture of the week: 11/01/21

FORTY years ago, as an eagle-eyed six-year-old, Graham Parkinson’s interest in wildlife was sparked by I-Spy books – and the fact his gran had a large garden with a field behind it to explore.

“She’s in her 90s now, and it’s lovely to be able to chat to her about the birds I’ve seen and the ones she has visit her garden,” he says. “I’m jealous of her daily bullfinches.”

Flash forward four decades and Graham’s fascination with what’s happening in his own backyard is undimmed but nowadays he is able to capture it on camera, as in this week’s picture choice, a remarkable if somewhat graphic encounter between a sparrowhawk and a goldfinch.

NATURE IN THE RAW: “This was such an amazing experience. I happened to be at my patio door photographing a woodpecker on a feeder. It disappeared, and as it did so this sparrowhawk flew in and caught a goldfinch less than two metres in front of me.”

“I’ve always had a lot of different birds that visit my garden in Marlow, and enjoyed lots of walks in the local countryside, but I was always keen to see more of the countryside and wildlife,” says Graham.

2020 proved the perfect opportunity to explore his longstanding interest in photography, and in the past few months his pictures have proved a big hit on local nature and wildlife forums.

FULL STRETCH: “This was in Little Marlow near to Spade Oak. I happened to turn round and it proceeded to stretch first this wing and then the other. I’d never seen this captured before.”

“I’ve been out of work, and my wife bought me a camera, a Canon 2000D (good beginner’s choice), and a friend lent me a good lens. I soon purchased a Canon 70-300mm lens, which was great, but even that wasn’t enough for wildlife.

“A kingfisher that came at the same time every day to Marlow Lock (for about two weeks) convinced me to upgrade the lens, so I now have a Sigma 150-600mm.

BEE’S KNEES: “This was by the riverbank in Pergola Field, Marlow. I love the pop of the flower’s colour and the fact you can clearly see the bee extracting nectar from the flower.”

“I still love taking photos of bird visitors to the garden, and all of the insects (hoverfies can be beautiful when you get to see them up close) and what can be seen around town (peregrine falcons, for example) and love going to Spade Oak.

“But what I really enjoy is going on local walks, typically 7-10 miles, and capturing what I can of the local wildlife, flora and the broader environment.”

ONE MOMENT IN TIME: “This was in Homefield Wood, a stunning place to visit, and I loved the light and the background behind the resting speckled wood butterfly.”

Using the Ordnance Survey OS Maps app to plan his own routes, he has visited many new locations, from local favourites like Homefield Wood, Farm Wood and the areas around Burnham Beeches to the many walks between Ibstone and Christmas Common.

“It’s been extremely rewarding, capturing wildlife I’ve never seen before. Also it’s great to take photos of great spotted woodpeckers in the garden, for example, but even more rewarding to spot one on a walk, to track it and then manage to get a good photo.

KITE FANTASTIC: “This is at Littleworth Common. It’s the shape it is forming, something I hadn’t seen a kite do before. I was at the end of a nine-mile walk and almost didn’t respond to the kite being there. I’m glad I stopped: you just never know when you might get a good photo.”

“I’m particularly interested in trying to capture a different pose or something that conveys the character or behaviour of the bird/animal I’m taking a photo of.

“The challenge with taking wildlife photos this way is that you are always on the move. I don’t wait long or have a hide set up at a particular spot where something is likely to come along. I do walk more slowly than I would normally, with all senses alert – it’s often movement that draws me to something.

ON THE MOVE: “This was Ockwells Park, Maidenhead. I love the colour of the light and the background and capturing the goldfinch feeding on the teasels.”

“The other challenge at this time of year is the short days make it more difficult to complete the walks in daylight. Though that has made me set off pre-dawn and led to some great photos in the dawn sunlight.

“At some point I’ll upgrade my camera and probably purchase a landscape-focused lens and take two cameras with me on my walks to more easily capture the landscape alongside the wildlife.”

Professionally, as a director of analytics, he senses that some people might find that quite far removed from something “creative” like photography.

But he adds: “Good analytics tells a story through data, insight, and visualisation; photography is a story of my walks and my garden and the wildlife, flora and environment I see.” Perhaps the two are not so very different after all.

LIGHT AND SHADE: “Homefield Wood again. It was a gorgeous hot day, the sun streaming down, but I got to a bit of the woods that was quite dark, with the sun just getting through to light this one fern frond. I love how it highlights the form of the fern.”

You can follow Graham’s photographs on his Instagram feed.

Picture of the week: 04/01/21

OUR first picture highlight of 2021 is a quite remarkable wildlife shot captured by Phil Laybourne in the River Thames outside Marlow.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: an otter pops up in the Thames PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

Phil recalls: “Standing in a freezing river early one morning with the cold water seeping into my boots, I was trying to photograph a kingfisher.

“The last thing on my mind was the Eurasian short-clawed otter that suddenly appeared behind me. I almost fell in. He stayed just long enough for me to get a couple of shots off before diving. That is still one of the best moments of my seven years in amateur photography.”

MORNING GLOW: a spectacular sunrise over Marlow PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

Based in Wooburn Green, Phil’s photographs range from stunning landscapes and sunsets to close studies of local wildlife, including swans and deer.

Favourite locations include Marlow, Bourne End, Bisham and Spade Oak and have extended to London and Ivinghoe Beacon – and since the sudden death of his wife Gail in May last year after a short illness, all of his prints have been on sale to raise money for Thames Hospice in Windsor, where she spent her last weeks.

INTO THE BLUE: the Compleat Angler at night PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

He says: “My late wife Gail was always my biggest critic and also my biggest fan. She would moan if i dared to wake her at 5am as I left for a photo shoot, yet would be really excited on my return to see what I had shot.”

In her memory he has set up a website of his pictures, where more than 250 are for sale at prices from £18 to £30, with all the proceeds going to the Thames Hospice.

“Sunrises and sunsets are my favourite medium,” says Phil. “I recently sold my starter camera and upgraded to a Nikon D850 with a Sigma 150-600mm for wildlife and a Sigma 14-24 f2.8 and Sigma 24-105mm for panoramics and day-to-day shooting.

DAWN DELIGHT: sunrise over Cock Marsh PICTURE: Phil Laybourne

“Walking along the Thames at dawn or dusk with the camera is a most rewarding experience. We are so lucky to have such a beautiful location on our doorstep.”

Picture of the week: 28/12/20

NO single picture of the week this week – just a sincere Christmas “thank you” to all those local artists whose talent has been in the spotlight in our weekly feature during the past few months.

Summer Stroll by Sabbi Gavrailov

Since August we’ve been able to focus on the work of a dozen different creative folk working in a variety of different formats, from oils and watercolours to photography, linocuts and textiles.

ANNA DILLON
Whipsnade by Anna Dillon

From the Oxfordshire studio of Anna Dillon to the Hertfordshire home of Sabbi Gavrailov, we have met creative folk of all ages and backgrounds.

Mill End, River Thames by Katie Cannon

The formats and materials may vary enormously, but what all our guest artists have in common is a love of local landscapes and wildlife, which frequently provide them with sources of inspiration.

Sue Graham in her Buckinghamshire studio

In some cases that inspiration has proved a life-changing experience, as for Sue Graham, whose reflections on the disappearing dawn chorus ended up with her family buying a croft and planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

Red Woods, a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

Other artists whose work is inextricably bound up in local landscapes include Jane Duff, a volunteer for The Earth Trust and an avid supporter of their efforts to create new wetlands and improve water ecosystems, and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, who with colleague Robin Wilson has a permanent base among the trees of Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire.

A Walk in the Woods by Rachel Wright

From windmills to bluebell woods, local landscapes provide a visual escape for many artists, whether working in textiles like Rachel Wright or acrylics like Christine Bass, who spends many hours outside among the whistling red kites before developing paintings from her drawings back in the studio.

Pulpit Wood by Christine Bass

If Chilterns landscapes from Ivinghoe Beacon and Pulpit Wood to Hertfordshire parks have provided many of the settings featured in the weekly articles, there have been occasional forays further afield too, with Tim Baynes providing an online escape from lockdown restrictions with his portraits of Kent marshlands and West Wales shorelines.

Dungeness Afternoon by Tim Baynes

There has even been a chance to learn the secrets of fairground art in the company of Joby Carter from Carters Steam Fair, whose family were the subject of a recent profile feature on our People & Places page.

Hand-painted steam gallopers at Carters Steam Fair

We’ve already had plenty of nominations of artists across the Chilterns whose works should feature in future instalments of the series, but keep them coming.

Times are tough for artists in the current climate and we’re eager to do all we can to help promote such a vast array of local talent – particularly in a year when so many of the local open studios events have had to be cancelled.

Thank you to all those who have supported the feature and especially to those talented individuals whose art gives so much pleasure to so many.

To nominate an artist or painting we might feature in the future, simply drop a line to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk with a link to the work and the reason for your choice.

Picture of the week: 21/12/20

THIS week’s picture choice is an extraordinary portrait of a hungry kingfisher by local wildlife photographer Will Brown.

The 19-year-old spends as much time as he can outdoors with his camera photographing wildlife in their natural habitats around his home in Hertfordshire.

TASTY TREAT: a hungry kingfisher by Will Brown

He recalls taking his first picture using his dad’s camera at RSPB Rye Meads, a local wetland reserve beside the River Lee which is a firm favourite with walkers, birdwatchers and photographers thanks to its many trails and hides.

That picture was a kingfisher, and these birds remain his favourite subjects, even though his growing portfolio includes owls, kestrels and small garden birds, as well as foxes and other mammals.

“Kingfishers have always been and always will be my favourite subject to photograph,” he says.

His striking shot was taken in October this year in Hemel Hempstead, when the bird was particularly obliging.

“Hemel has the canal, rivers and lakes with lots of access so it is ideal,” says Will. “It was posing beautifully for me on the bridge, hardly disturbed by people which is very unusual for kingfishers as they are usually quite nervous birds.

LATE BREAKFAST: a short-eared owl hunting by Will Brown

“Owls are my rarest and most challenging subject, and another one of my favourites,” says Will.

His striking owl pictures here were both taken on the same evening in November this year.

“By far the best owl experience I have ever had. Quite amazing,” he recalls. “The type of owl is a short-eared owl. They only stay here during winter months. In the summer they migrate to colder climates, such as Scandinavia.”

Still photography remains his main love at the moment, although he has experimented with video footage of owls and kingfishers. “I’m sure in the future I will do this more often,” he adds.

And to answer some of those technical questions about equipment, he explains: “When I first started getting into photography I used the Canon SX50 for the first couple of years. Then I moved on to the Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon 100-400mm Mark II. However, occasionally, depending on the situation I am in I sometimes use the Sony RX10.”

FAMILY PORTRAIT: fox cubs in Hemel Hempstead by Will Brown

Foxes are the main mammals to feature in his portfolio, including an eye-catching picture of cubs taken in Hemel Hempstead back in August 2018. “It is very rare to have them all out at once in the right place!” he says.

Clearly patience is a virtue when it comes to widlife, and that hasn’t always been easy to cultivate, he admits.

“Patience is a skill which has taken me years to develop. When I was about 10, I used to sit around in a bird hide with my dad, bored and uninterested as to what was going on with the wildlife. I use to drag myself along with him because we would always go and get a KFC after.

“After a while, I started to become more and more interested. Patience is a skill which requires the right mindset as well. These days, I am more than happy to wait around all day for a particular bird or animal to show and would not feel fustrated at the end of the day if I produced no results.

“I just enjoy being out and around nature. I never thought all those years ago I would be where I am now, sitting in a hide waiting for my dad to leave and get me a KFC!”

ON THE WING: another shot of a short-eared owl by Will Brown

When lockdown restrictions allow, he hopes to take a part-time photography course at college to help improve his skills and learn more about the industry.

For the moment, his main plans are to keep working on building his portfolio and continuing to sell his photos and reach as many people as he can.

“When someone buys some prints from me, I don’t get a buzz from the fact that I might be making money, I get a buzz from the fact that my photo is in someone else’s house,” he says. “That’s what I love about what I do.”

Framed copies of Will’s prints can be obtained from his website or follow him on his Instagram account.

Picture of the week: 14/12/20

THIS week’s picture is a stunning Chilterns landscape taken from a winter exhibition organised by Herts Visual Arts featuring the work of more than 40 artists from across Hertfordshire.

The hand-signed oil painting is by self-taught artist Sabbi Gavrailov, who lives with his wife and two sons in Hemel Hempstead and only fully rediscovered his love of art earlier this year.

Over the Chiltern Hills by Sabbi Gavrailov

A keen photographer and cyclist, Sabbi is originally from Bulgaria, where he studied architecture and civil engineering before settling in the UK in 2003 to pursue a career in luxury hotels and hospitality.

A fascination with digital photography over the past decade has helped to encourage his love of local landscapes, but despite always wanting to become an artist one day, the opportunity had never really presented itself.

One of Sabbi’s extraordinary high-definition photographs

“When I was young, art was everything to me,” he says. Then in April, when his father died from cancer back home in Bulgaria, it seemed to unleash a creative outpouring of emotion.

“I must have produced about 50 paintings in the past five months,” he admits with a smile, having startled friends with the ease with which he began producing everything from classic portraits to eye-catching landscapes, using single strokes of a palette knife with feeling and precision.

Sabbi Gavrailov in his studio

Often using his own high-definition photographs as a source, he was soon hard at work, putting down some of the roots of his inspiration to the fact he spent his childhood and teenage years in a small town which has extraordinary artistic connections.

Brezovo is the birthplace of two iconic Bulgarian artists: Zlatyu Boyadzhiev, who died in 1976 and is known for his portraits and landscapes depicting the Old Town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, and village life in the region, and Mincho Katsarov, an artist celebrated in France but virtually unknown in his home country.

Whether or not there is anything in the Brezovo water to explain Sabbi’s artistic endeavours, there’s been no stopping him this year.

Bluebells by Sabbi Gavrailov

“The devastating event of my Dad’s death has triggered an overwhelming desire to paint again,” he confesses. “It’s like something I have never known or done before in my life.”

As well as using his digital photographs and cycling trips into the Chilterns countryside as a starting point for his art, he has produced still lifes, portraits and seascapes too.

Autumn scene by Sabbi Gavrailov

“I see no sign of stopping, quite the opposite,” he says. Spurred on by his friends’ enthusiasm for his work, he has become an active member of Herts Visual Arts, where he now has a gallery in addition to his own art website and social media links on Facebook and Instagram.

With some of his paintings available as originals and others as high-res prints, he has also been undertaking commissions.

Campfire at dawn by Sabbi Gavrailov

“My college years gave me a different perspective on art while I studied architecture. Then I got drawn to digital photography very quickly and I felt the need to educate myself further to get the most out of it.

“I got my diploma in digital photography and this opened a different world, through the lens.  Now inevitably the painting and photography for me go hand in hand,” he says.

Summer stroll by Sabbi Gavrailov

“I constantly experiment with different styles of painting and push myself to learn new techniques. I love to paint portraits, seascapes and landscapes. I feel the power of nature and human expression around me: it is the greatest inspiration one can find and I express it through my paintings.”

Picture of the week: 07/12/20

ANCIENT landscapes provide the inspiration for many of our favourite artists, and Anna Dillon is no exception.

“As someone who enjoys long-distance walks, travel and exploration I am determined to visit and paint as many landscapes as possible within my life,” she says.

Whipsnade by Anna Dillon

That sense of exploration is reflected in her output, which includes collections ranging from First World War battlefields in France to Irish coastlines, and encompasses dozens of vibrant paintings portraying half a dozen different English counties from Cornwall to the Cotswolds.

But our choice for this week’s featured picture takes us to a painting entitled Whipsnade, showing the view from Ivinghoe Beacon looking out towards the famous chalk lion which has overlooked the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire since 1933 and was restored in 2018.

Born in Wallingford, Anna trained as an illustrator at Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall and ditched her job as a graphic designer in 2009 when she decided to paint for a living. “It was the best thing I have ever done,” she says. “I feel lucky and my passion for the landscape gets deeper each year as I learn.”

From her Oxfordshire studio she shows off some of the works which have been taking shape during months of lockdown, including a new series of Chilterns landscapes and aerial views for a collaboration with drone pilot Hedley Thorne.

The locations of each painting and photo connect with local history to provide a narrative which the pair hope will give valuable insights at their Airscapes exhibition planned for 2021, providing a ‘birds-eye’ view of the Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside.

Lockdown has also provided opportunities to explore the local landscape on foot, and Anna incorporates notes from her walking diary to accompany some of the paintings, like that from Lodge Hill, north of Bledlow Ridge in Buckinghamshire.

View from Lodge Hill by Anna Dillon

It’s October and the elements are against her, she recalls, with strong winds and flurries of rain.

“Walking through the outskirts of Chinnor, the track becomes lined with beech trees in wonderful colours of yellow and orange. As I shuffle through the fallen leaves The Ridgeway takes a sharp turn right into a large, expansive and attractive piece of downland called Wain Hill as I cross into Buckinghamshire,” she writes.

“The track steadily climbs on to Lodge Hill where the grass on the track is like a green, velvet covering. The views from up here are spectacular with a 360 degree panoramic of the Chilterns.”

Frequently Tweeting about her enjoyment of the local countryside, from frosty walks by the Thames to visits to the “mother of all hillforts” at Maiden Castle, she has developed her style using bold and strong colour which reflect the form, contours and light of the land, using thin layers of oil paints built up gradually and slowly.

Original paintings might sell for up to £2,500 but many of her original paintings are also available as limited-edition Giclee prints and greetings cards.

Inchombe Hole, Buckinghamshire by Anna Dillon

One suitable seasonal walk portrays Incombe Hole at the end of December and forms part of her extraordinary Ridgeway series of oil on board paintings, of which prints are available.

“To my right I can see Dunstable Downs and behind me is the famous Whipsnade Lion,” she writes. “I bought my first house not far from here in a village called Slip End on the edge of Bedfordshire. The sun sets on an inspiring walk and the last day of a brilliant year.”

Further afield, her Battlelines Redrawn project started as a study of how some of the wartorn battlefields of the First World War in France and Belgium have regenerated over the last century and exploring poetic connections with the chalk landscapes of the North Wessex and Berkshire downs.

She also cites war artist Paul Nash as a particular inspiration and his special affinity for the wooded hills in South Oxfordshire called The Wittenham Clumps has been reflected in many of her own paintings.

Picture of the week: 30/11/20

OUR picture choice this week takes us on our final foray into the Moleskine sketchbooks of Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes, who has been painting and print-making for more than 30 years.

For the past fortnight Tim has taken us on a lockdown journey to some of his favourite painting locations around the country, from the distinctive shorelines of Kent and Sussex which have featured in his Curious Coast adventures to the somewhat wilder coast of West Wales.

Flowers of the Ridgeway by Tim Baynes

Having spent years travelling the world working for Microsoft and the BBC, Tim’s sketches cover a plethora of destinations from New York to Japan and have been seen by millions on the BBC’s Passport travel blog and in Wanderlust magazine.

But much as he loves capturing the atmosphere of exotic places, there’s no place like home, and many of the almost 4,000 sketches in his notebooks are based on his wanderings around Chilterns villages and local churches – with wife Sian and Shih Tzu-Bichon Frise cross Rosie often coming along too.

James the Less, Stubbings, Berkshire by Tim Baynes

“Rosie especially loves churches, where she can investigate the sniffs and smells and perhaps a crumb dropped by the ladies when they are on their break from cleaning,” says Tim, whose fascination with church architecture even led to a book in 2016 chronicling his affectionate voyage in drawings around the Cathedrals of England.

Tim studied at the Colchester, Slade and Central Saint Martins schools of art and works in line and wash, watercolours and acrylics, as well as oils.

St Mary the Virgin at Radnage, by Tim Baynes

Since 2010 he has also been making regular blog entries chronicling some of his travels, and after 20 years exploring churches across the centuries up to 1900, has spent time in recent months exploring those around High Wycombe built since World War II, uncovering an intriguing hotch-potch of designs in all shapes and sizes, and wide range of materials.

“Anything goes,” says Tim, as characterised in the writings of his favourite polemicist, Jonathan Meades in Museum Without Walls (Unbound Books 2013): “Churches started to come in all shapes. There were bunkers and ships. There were churches that looked like silos… churches with swervy roofs and hyperbolic paraboloid roofs. The faithful must have had to work hard to convince themselves they were attending church at all.”

The Pastures Church in High Wycombe by Tim Baynes

But that’s not to say modern is bad. Tim’s burgeoning fascination with modern architecture from 1900 to the present has allowed him to embark on a new voyage of discovery

“My education is taking me to all kinds of wonderful places,” he says. “Touring and drawing what I call ‘the modern church’ – those places put up for God after 1945, some of which look like Scout Huts, others like office blocks. Huge fun. 

“I have been ‘churching’ locally or pretty locally. It’s been a time of frustration because they are closed and anger, because with thought they should be open. Nonetheless, rain or shine, the church is always there for us even though we cannot step inside; we can hunker down outside and enjoy each one.”

St Andrew’s, Sonning, Berkshire by Tim Baynes

His blog entries capture his passion for churching, from the discovery of an open church in Berkshire in July to his emotions at finally being able to take Holy Communion again in October.

Old or new, Tim’s drawings bring the churches to life in the same way that his landscapes capture the contours of the countryside, at home and abroad – and while his lockdown “stocktake” has provided an opportunity to sort out old photographs and revisit some favourite destinations in the studio, hopefully it won’t be too long before he can get back on the road, sketchbook in hand, adding some more churches, beaches and landscapes to his formidable portfolio.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog can be found here.

From Whiteleaf Hill, Monks Risborough by Tim Baynes

Picture of the week: 23/11/20

OUR picture this week allows us to continue our lockdown ‘travels’ with Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes, who has been painting and print-making for more than 30 years.

Married to a gardener and with two grown-up daughters who live in London, his inspiration comes from both landscapes and urban life.

Towards Mathry, Pembrokeshire by Tim Baynes

Much of his work is drawn from his travelling when working for Microsoft and the BBC, and last week we focused on his Curious Coast collaboration with architect photographer Trevor Clapp exploring the shorelines of Kent and Essex.

This week the spotlight is on West Wales, and that part of Tim’s website focused on more recent visits to Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire – “a landscape, coastline and places that really inspire”, as he puts it.

From Dryslwyn Castle by Tim Baynes

Tim studied at the Colchester, Slade and Central Saint Martins schools of art and works in line and wash, watercolours and acrylics, as well as oils.

He aims to make one drawing every day and has amassed nearly 4,000 drawings in his meticulous Moleskine notebooks.

Since 2010 he has also been making regular blog entries chronicling some of his travels, which have taken him from Bombay to New York, Peru to Japan and all points in between, including regular perambulations round Chilterns villages and a host of local churches.

Croes-goch by Tim Baynes

But this year has seen a new focus for his art. He says: “I have fallen hopelessly in love with West Wales. I seem to spend all of my artistic waking moments thinking about painting this wonderful part of the world: the counties of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.”

Some of the Welsh trips have been more memorable than others, meriting special mention in Tim’s blog. “Croes-goch lies on one of the pilgrimage routes to St David’s cathedral,” he explains. “Nearby, at Mesur y Dorth, a specially carved stone indicates a spot where people shared their bread before the last stage of their journey. The stone is still clearly visible just to the north of the crossroads. 

“The leading painter John Knapp Fisher lived and worked here in Trevigan Cottage until his death in 2015. The cottage gallery is often open selling prints of his work.  I am greatly inspired by his work, paintings that capture the skies and seas and villages of this remarkable country – characteristic are a tiny collection of cottages, perhaps a chapel, crouched together under a dark sky.”

Abereiddy Beach, by Tim Baynes

Another discovery was a Pembrokeshire beach which boasts extraordinary colours. “It was one of those days in winter when it never seems to get light,” Tim recalls. “We pulled up at Abereiddy beach. Close by, its small hamlet of houses and cottages huddled together for warmth.

“We walked down to the water’s edge and back, across lots and lots and lots of lovely pebbles and extraordinarily dark sand made of pounded grey slate. Slate mining was once a big business on this part of the coast.

“Ruins of a small group of slate houses known as The Street remain near the beach, their stones peering across at you through the headland grass. These were built for the quarry workers of the ‘Blue Lagoon’ only abandoned after a flood in the early 1900s.

“The ‘Blue Lagoon’ itself is a beautiful little harbour – the hamlet’s breached quarry – round the corner just to the north. Its name ‘blue’ because when the sun does shine the slate under the sea causes it to shimmer all shades of turquoise.”

Garn Fawr from John Piper’s cottage by Tim Baynes

This month’s second national lockdown provided a perfect chance for Tim to trawl through old photographs in search of artistic inspiration.

“It has been and remains a distressing time for so many. Yet for some people it has presented the chance for more recreation,” he says. “There have been unprecedented levels of walking and cycling during the pandemic.”

It has also been a surprisingly productive time creatively, he admits. During the first lockdown in March he started to reach back into old experiences to generate new work, both in his mind and his studio, working through precious photographs and setting time aside to produce new works.

It has proved an invaluable “stocktake”, a chance to revisit some favourite destinations and pore over past blog entries, focusing on architecture and his fascination with churches, as well as landscapes.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog can be found here.

Next week: In our final glimpse into Tim’s notebooks, he explores the familiar landscapes of the Chilterns – and a new fascination with modern church architecture.



 

Picture of the week: 16/11/20

OUR picture choice this week gives us the opportunity to escape lockdown restrictions in the company of Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes.

And where could provide a bigger contrast with the rolling countryside of the Chilterns than the flatlands of the Kent coast and marshes?

The unique offbeat “kiss-me-quick” atmosphere of the East Anglian and Kent seaside and coast have fascinated Tim and his architect and photographer friend Trevor Clapp for the past decade.

Dungeness Afternoon by Tim Baynes

So much so that their Curious Coast project has taken on a life of its own: there’s even a free downloadable collection of some of Tim’s early sketches from the project, chronicling their visits to Canvey Island, Jaywick and Dungeness.

Tim’s travels working for Microsoft and the BBC gave him the opportunity to build up a formidable library of thousands of sketches, all meticulously chronicled in more than 30 Moleskine notebooks, the same kind favoured by painters and writers from Van Gogh to Picasso and Hemingway.

Millions have seen his work over the years – on the weekly Passport travel blog on the BBC.com website, as well as in Wanderlust magazine and major newspapers in America and the Far East.

Dungeness Boats by Tim Baynes

But away from the world’s major capitals, his day trips with Trevor have provided an intimate record of a rather different world – of oil and gas silos, beach cafes and wind-blown beaches, of passing barges, trailer homes and down-at-heel ports and military installations.

Nowhere is that sense of being on the edge of the world more dramatic than in Dungeness, a desolate headland on the Kent coast which boasts one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe and an extraordinarily diverse plant, bird and insect population.

In this flat and isolated landscape, fishermen’s huts lie in the shadow of a nuclear power station, joined in more recent years by a series of striking architect-designed homes.

Two Huts, Two Boats by Tim Baynes

It’s a strange and sometimes eerie landscape that has attracted artists and film-makers, music producers and fashion photographers – and this year saw a huge charity crowdfunding campaign designed to save the cottage home of artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman.

Jarman moved to Prospect Cottage in 1986 after being diagnosed as HIV positive. He passed away from the illness in 1994 and bequeathed the cottage to Keith Collins, his close companion, who died in 2018.

Now the house will be taken care of by arts organisation Creative Folkestone, which will organise a permanent public programme and conserve the building including its renowned wild garden sown on the beach shingles.

Littlestone Beach by Tim Baynes

His former home continues to be a site of pilgrimage for people from all over the world, who come to be inspired by the stark beauty of the landscape and by Jarman’s legacy.

Here, as always on his travels, Tim is busy capturing the scene, just one of a formidable collection of almost 4,000 sketches.

“During each trip I have recorded my observations in spare moments,” Tim told Wanderlust in a 2011 interview. “At the beginning of a new day, an evening alone in a restaurant, in a bar waiting for colleagues, or in a few minutes stolen between meetings.

The Lady Rebecca by Tim Baynes

“I have this compulsion to capture a moment, getting it down on paper. My art is about the ephemeral impressions of time and place. I am searching for what is special about each place.

“The narrative that accompanies some of the drawings is an immediate response to the highs and lows, joys and wretchedness of travel; as a result, my comments are often emotionally charged and always direct.”

During the initial March lockdown, Tim found he was able to establish a routine that devoted three hours each day to painting and drawing and took him on a journey to all those places he had visited over the years.

“I have in my mind and in my studio been to New York, Tokyo and spent (figuratively) massive amounts of time in Kent,” he says.

From West Wales to his beloved Essex, that journey of rediscovery has focused on architecture as well as landscapes. Working oils and acrylics as well as watercolours, his work has been snapped up by private collectors around the world.

Tim Baynes’ website features a variety of galleries of his work, downloadable minibooks and work for sale. His blog can be found here.

Next week: Tim’s lockdown ‘travels’ take him to West Wales

Picture of the week: 09/11/20

THE incredible thing about this week’s Picture of the Week is that it is not a painting but a work of intricate embroidery, created by textile artist Rachel Wright.

“Embroideries enable me to draw and paint through the medium of fabric and stitch,” says Rachel. “My embroideries stand out because of the striking use of rich colour, which captivates and draws the viewer in. My aim is simply to delight the eye.”

Brill Windmill by Rachel Wright

Her Brill Windmill piece was part of a commission completed during lockdown earlier this year which also incorporated seven miniature pieces of the churches that form the Bernwode Benefice.

“The windmill part of the brief didn’t bother me at all as the subject matter was right up my street,” she says. “I loved creating the sky, giving a sense of drama with the feeling of wind and movement. The little churches were a much greater challenge. Working at such a small scale was new to me and trying to put in enough detail at that scale was tricky.”

Churches of the Bernwode Benifice by Rachel Wright

Rachel studied fashion and textiles at Birmingham City University and set up her own business in 1994, selling her work through various galleries and shops and exhibiting regularly.

“I grew up with art all around me because my father is a fine artist,” she says. “He paints in oil and watercolour and does wonderful wood engravings. We used to spend lots of weekends in galleries and museums.  My dad was a huge influence on me. He taught me so much about drawing and especially how to observe. I think that’s why I have an eye for detail.”

Her particular love of textiles stemmed from sitting at her grandmother’s knee as a child. “She was always stitching or mending something and she had an old sewing box full of sewing curiosities, which I found endlessly fascinating and just loved to root through,” Rachel recalls.

Flour Power by Rachel Wright

“I loved to draw and paint when I was young but I wasn’t very good at mixing up paint colours. Fabrics are like a ready-made paint-box full of glorious colours, textures, patterns etc. I realised that I could paint with the fabrics, using them as my palette of colour and the stitching like the stroke of a fine brush to add in details.”

She takes her inspiration from landscapes and cityscapes and has a particular love of the sea, harbour towns, boats and lighthouses. But Chilterns landscapes have featured in her work too.

She explains: “I am inspired by the beauty we find all around us, by the forces of nature which shape our surroundings, carving out our coastlines, sculpting landscapes and twisting mighty trees and painting wondrous sunsets in the expansive skies above our heads.”

A Blustery Day by Rachel Wright

One particular picture was inspired by a walk with her son. “It was one of those blustery days in March when the clouds were racing across the sky urged on by the wind and the light on the landscape was changing second by second.

“We were on the Waddesdon estate and I noticed a clump of trees with a stripy ploughed field in front of them. Something about the light and the feel of the day made me give my phone to my son and ask him to try to capture what I’d seen. I knew I wanted to make a piece based on that day and this was the result.”

She works a lot from photographs – “often taken by my family because they are better with a camera than I am” – and sketches directly onto her base fabric, which is cotton calico.

“Once I have a basic sketch I begin to gather together a palette of fabrics, which offer me the colours, markings, textures etc that I will need. I start to cut tiny pieces of fabric, choosing them very carefully and begin to lay them down, painting with them in small areas.

“Sometimes I use pins to hold them in place and then I begin to free motion stitch on my machine, a beloved old Bernina from the 80s.”

Dozens of works in her portfolio focus on animals and birds, as well as seascapes and landscapes – like one archetypal Chilterns view of bluebell woods near Christmas Common.

A Walk in the Woods by Rachel Wright

“This piece was also inspired by a family walk and I worked from photographs taken by my son on my phone again,” says Rachel.

“Apart from the obvious glory of the carpets of bluebells in the woods up by Christmas Common, I was drawn again to the light, dappled and soft as it filters through the bright spring green leaves on the branches. 

“It is both exciting and terrifying to see a piece of work emerging, battling through the tricky stages when it really isn’t working until at some point it turns a corner and everything comes together and finally you have the piece that you imagined in your mind’s eye at the start of the whole process.”

Picture of the week: 02/11/20

THE stunning colours of this week’s Picture of the Week reflect Katie Cannon’s fascination with water, and the strong contrast in light between water and sky.

Her picture of Mill End between Marlow and Henley was painted a while before lockdown, when she says it became a little harder to paint with three children to entertain.

Mill End, River Thames by Katie Cannon

“I grew up by the sea so I love being near water,” says Katie. “The River Thames offers up some great picturesque spots and, after visiting, I always feel inspired to paint.

“There are many places along the River Thames where I can observe its tranquil beauty. I mostly paint locations that are a pleasure to spend time in and are good for the soul.”

Mullion Cove by Katie Cannon

Though now living and working in Oxfordshire, she admits to being heavily inspired by her seaside roots in Cornwall, which has provided the setting for many of her paintings in the past – like Mullion Cove (above), “a place I have painted a thousand times!”

“I particularly like painting water that has reflections,” she says. “I paint with acrylics and use quite vibrant colours in most of my artwork.”

Though pictures of boats and fishing villages have dominated much of her art, lockdown restrictions gave her an opportunity to spend more time enjoying local landscapes.

The White Mark, by Katie Cannon

“Whilst I usually concentrate on painting the sea or rivers, I have more recently started painting the woodlands and views from the Chilterns as well,” she says.

“I’m so grateful to have open countryside on my doorstep, especially now during these troubled times.”

Turville Windmill by Katie Cannon

Picture of the week: 26/10/20

YOU dont have to be a professional photographer to take a stunning picture: sometimes it’s simply a case of being in the right place at just the right time.

At least, that’s the modest claim of Anne Rixon, whose recent photograph picked up hundreds of “likes” when she shared it on a local wildlife forum, and is our latest selection for Picture of the Week.

A keen walker, Anne took the picture beside the Grangelands nature reserve near her home in Princes Risborough.

“It is not often I get such a response to my photos. I am not a professional by any means but this was a perfect moment,” she says. “I was lucky that the sunset happened and shot these through a hole in a netting fence at the side of the bridleway.”

Photography is a relatively recent hobby for Anne, 64, who loves wildlife, sharing some of her shots with members of the Bucks Free Press and Oxford Mail camera clubs.

“I walk a lot and take the camera with me trying to capture the beauty of the Chilterns as I go,” she says. “I have been an avid photographer for about two years, more so since lockdown in March.

“I have updated a few months ago to a high zoom bridge camera, Nikon P900 83x zoom. I get a lot of advice from members of the camera club.

“I use no other special equipment. I edit slightly but no photoshopping, just basic windows 10. I try to capture life as I see it.”

Favourite local locations include Whiteleaf Hill and Pulpit Hill, the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union canal and the Tring reservoirs, along with Hughenden Park and Naphill Common.

She says: “During lockdown I discovered some lovely places to walk on my doorstep. I suffer from long-term health conditions and I have found walking and photography to be a wonderful therapy.”

Picture of the week: 19/10/20

THIS week’s picture takes us deep into Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire and a print with a distinctly autumnal feel by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, who with colleague Robin Wilson has a permanent base among these trees.

The pair are artists-in-residence at the University of Oxford, which has owned and maintained this ancient semi-natural woodland since 1942.

MYTHIC PAST: Red Woods, a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

Says Rosie: “Wytham Woods is a singular place, not because there is anything exceptional about the woods themselves but because of the intensity of the attention they receive as Oxford University’s research woodland.”

Pioneers of ecology envisioned the woods as a living laboratory and the data collected here, running back to the 1950s, is invaluable to environmental disciplines that depend on long-term study.

Its 1,000 acres are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and rich in flora and fauna, with over 500 species of plants, a wealth of woodland habitats, and 800 species of butterflies and moths.

“Ornithologists, zoologists and plant scientists – so many of them have passed through Wytham or are familiar with its research and I’ve met people in all kinds of places, from Welsh hillsides to the Isles of Scilly, who have fond memories of these woods,” Rosie reveals.

“And yet it is an amazing piece of woodland because all woods are, and this one is a small realm of wildness in the very tame landscape of Oxfordshire.

“We have been working at Wytham now since 2012 and our studio is right in the middle of the woods. In the winter we get the sun setting through the bare trees, sliding between the icy banks of clouds, and in the summer late-night printing will mean disturbing hare, badger and deer on the journey home.

“There is a great stability, if you open up your idea of time, to landscape: the land just is and will continue, in whatever form, round and over the trinketry lives of man. It’s got infinitely more time than us. But landscape without man doesn’t have any thought – or at least, not one I can access – and I find it difficult to have interest without thought.

“It’s history and myth and legend that puts a whole load of mental life back into the landscape. Among other places, I’ve worked in Romania where landed peasants have a very active and practical relationship with the land, and undertake fieldwork in Lycia, Turkey, where time is kaleidoscoped up into nothing by the fallen amphitheatres and tombs that litter the mountainsides and all of this has helped develop my ideas about landscape. Then I print-make, write and draw, and my ideas come out in one of other of these mediums.

Red Woods is taken from a drawing I made through the trees on the main track up into the Woods, about ten minutes walk from our studio. During WW1 the woods were taken over as a training ground for the front, and in the print you can see the undulation of old trenches.

“It’s an autumn print, hence the colours, and the dry stems of the dead bluebells litter the ground. The little row of mushrooms along the front is for Tolkien, who has a similar line of mushrooms along the front of one of his pen and ink drawings of Milkwood.

“The mythic past that Tolkien invented has seeped its way into the landscape of Britain and Europe for me in the same way the classical world still inhabits the mountains of Lycia, or WW1 still dominates the landscape of the Somme. The past hasn’t gone anywhere and the landscape gives it back all the time.”

Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley runs The Wytham Studio with Dr Robin Wilson at Oxford University’s Wytham Woods. Among other things, they run printmaking workshops. Rosie can be contacted at rosie.fairfax-cholmeley@admin.ox.ac.uk. Follow the studio on Instagram.

Picture of the week: 12/10/20

OUR latest Picture of the Week is a painting completed during lockdown by local artist Christine Bass.

Most of Christine’s paintings are inspired by the countryside where she lives on the edge of the Chilterns, where three counties meet.

Her contemporary landscapes are characterised by strong lines and shapes, flattened planes and the use of vibrant colour.

SENSE OF FREEDOM: The Ridgeway, Steps Hill by Christine Bass

She says: “This spring and summer, I walked almost daily up Steps Hill. My painting shows the start of that walk along the chalk track up the hill. My favourite route takes me from the base of Pitstone Hill, skirts round the top of Steps Hill, turns off into Ashridge Wood and descends to the meadow along the lip of Incombe Hole.

“There are some fabulous views on this walk: the dramatic curves of Incombe Hole as seen from the top of Steps Hill, expansive views across Aylesbury Vale, the softly rounded hills leading up to Ivinghoe Beacon, and the beauty of the beech woods. 

EXPANSIVE VIEWS: Ivinghoe Beacon from Aldbury Nowers by Christine Bass

“I love that combination of chalk downs with woodland and, this year in particular, in the midst of the lockdown, it gave me an exhilarating sense of freedom.”

Christine draws particular inspiration from landscapes where the natural lie of the land is accentuated by man-made interventions such as tracks, farmed fields and hedgerows, planted woodland and reservoirs.

ORDERED LANDSCAPE: Tring Park by Christine Bass

This year she has spent many hours working on very large drawings of Incombe Hole and Ivinghoe Beacon, but even at the height of summer, working conditions outside could be challenging.

She recalls: “Even on fine, sunny days, the wind at the top of Steps Hill was so fierce that I had to wrap up warmly and really secure the pages of my sketchbook.

WHISTLING KITES: Pulpit Wood by Christine Bass

“The soundtrack was that of burbling skylarks and whistling red kites. There were wild flowers in abundance: cowslips and buttercups, bluebells and orchids, knapweed and ragwort, wild carrot, ladies bedstraw, agrimony and scabious, bellflowers and harebells, clover, marjoram and yarrow.”

As the summer fades into autumn, Christine will work in her studio developing paintings from those drawings, working with layers of acrylic paint on a collaged base.

“I begin by drawing the composition onto board before collaging the whole surface with tissue paper,” she explains. “The drawn composition is important to me; when it begins to disappear beneath the layers of tissue, I re-draw it.  I then paint in acrylics onto that collage base, focusing on the original drawing but also incorporating many of the shapes which originate from the tissue layer. My aim is a synthesis between the drawing and the more abstract collage, with the painted layer bringing the two together.”

CHANGING SEASONS: Autumn at Wilstone by Christine Bass

It’s a change of technique from her early artistic career when she worked as an illustrator producing black and white pen and ink drawings. She grew up in Trinidad and the bright light and vivid colours of the tropics still exert an influence in her paintings.

“I longed to work in colour and my first, very vibrant paintings reflected that desire.  I still use strong, saturated colours in my landscape paintings but they tend to be more natural – greens and yellows, blues and greys, oranges and browns,” she says.

To see more of Christine’s work, visit www.christinebassart.com and her Instagram feed.

Picture of the week: 05/10/20

IT’S no normal picture of the week this week, but a focus on the lost skill of fairground art, which Joby Carter has been passing on to people from over the world through his unique online courses.

The coronavirus lockdown hit travelling funfairs hard, with all their spring and summer bookings cancelled. But Joby Carter of Carters Steam Fair wasn’t prepared to sit back and do nothing over the long summer months, as our recent feature revealed.

He discovered a growing demand around the world for his evening classes focusing on traditional signwriting techniques.

Different courses run live from his paint shop outside Maidenhead have been allowing classes to learn about traditional fairground art, signwriting and coachpainting, picking up expert tips acquired through a lifetime of restoring the fair’s beautiful rides, living wagons and transport.

Traditionally everything in the fair is moved around the country using vintage heavy lorries and magnificent showman’s living wagons with their cut-glass windows, lace curtains and gleaming wood interiors.

Latest online courses have included coachpainting and fancy lettering – as well as a five-part course showing how to paint a fairground horse, like the famous Carters gallopers, which date from the 1890s.

Details of Joby’s online signwriting courses can be found here.

Picture of the week: 28/09/20

THE natural world dominates Jane Duff’s art in the same way it has dominated her life, and our latest Picture of the Week reflects that.

Jane’s childhood was an idyllic existence on the edge of Snowdonia in which she was largely left to her own devices, riding her bike or climbing hills with her dog as her faithful companion. By university her horizons were broadening and she was to spend much of her early twenties in the Nepal Himalayas, initially trekking and camping alone and later becoming a guide herself, taking groups for weeks at a time through Nepal’s magnificent peaks and forests.

When she returned to the UK a few years later to work for OUP as art editor, her passion was for photography and it was not for many years that she turned her hand to drawing and painting.

This led to her enrolling in an arts foundation course and her interest in the natural world also led to an advanced diploma in environmental conservation at Oxford University. She now fuses her interest in the environment with her love of painting.

Landscapes dominate much of her work as demonstrated by Winter Snow in the Wetlands, a 60x60cm oil on canvas painting of the Earth Trust’s River of Life wetland project near Wallingford.

She is also a volunteer for The Earth Trust in Little Wittenham and an avid supporter of their efforts to create new wetlands and improve water ecosystems along the River Thames and River Thame, as well as several new ponds in Little Wittenham woods, home to one of the country’s most significant populations of great crested newts.

“The new ponds, reedbeds, backwaters, wildflower meadows and wet woodland provide vital habitats for wildlife including otters, water voles, club-tailed dragonflies, kingfishers, skylarks , yellowhammers,” she says.

“Regular monitoring has shown that hundreds of thousands of fish fry are using the channels as a safe haven and that 12 of the Thames’ 20 species of fish are already present.”

Woolly thistle on Wittenham Clumps nature reserve by Jane Duff

Phase Two of the project will involve creating wetlands between Little Wittenham and Clifton Hampden and is due to start in 2021.

“The Earth Trust do amazing work,” she says “They look after miles of footpaths and open access land over Wittenham Clumps enjoyed by over 150,000 people per year as well as running a farm and an environmental education programme for local schools.

“ I’m not sure if the general public realise how much work is involved maintaining the paths and hedgerows and forests. Things are really tough for them as for many charities and they do need our support, especially right now.”

Jane put together a solo exhibition entitled Wildsong at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford showing 55 paintings of some of the wildest landscapes in the UK, including several west country seascapes and many paintings of the Welsh moors and mountains.

Early Spring in the Coed y Brenin by Jane Duff

They showed remote, dramatic and elemental landscapes – even if she laments there is no true ‘wilderness’ still to be found in the British countryside.

At present she is preparing for a solo exhibition at West Ox Arts gallery in Bampton in Feb-March 2021 entitled A Love of the Land.

Oxfordshire may lack the more dramatic landscapes reflected in her paintings of Mid-Wales, North West Scotland or the far west of Cornwall, but the softer surroundings of Oxfordshire nature reserves, heathlands, woodlands, chalk downs and open spaces, as well as the River Thames and its many tributaries, provide their own inspiration, she insists.

Light over Loch Kentra, Ardnamurchan by Jane Duff

Jane loves the ever-changing light of wild places, as well as the solitude and peace which helps to concentrate the mind, and despite the practical challenges of painting in situ she tries to do so whenever possible.

“I immerse myself in a landscape for hours, absorbing the atmosphere, the play of light and shadows, the textures and colours of the vegetation before finding the place that moves me enough to want to put up my easel and paint there,” she told OX magazine in an interview last year ahead of her Wildsong exhibition.

“I often struggle to get started and procrastinate a lot as I love it all too much! I find it overwhelming. But once I start I am away with a burst of energy and find myself reacting instinctively to the landscape, bringing the emotions, weather and light of the place into my paintings.

“I will often finish a painting in one sitting but will equally often work further on a painting back in the studio. It can make me a bit nervous painting in remote places especially if there are curious cows and horses around so if this happens, I sometimes pack up and go home armed with sketches and photographs. My two dogs sit alongside me for hours. They must wonder what on earth I am doing.”

She works mostly in oils, cold wax and acrylic and often on a large scale.

She firmly believes that art has a part to play not only in reminding people of the beauty of the landscape but highlighting the importance of protecting habitats and their biodiversity.

“We have such fantastic landscapes in the UK – we are fortunate beyond belief to have so much packed into such a small island. Thank heavens for the National Trust protecting so much of our beautiful British coastline and for our wonderful National Parks and nature reserves. Some of my paintings are of Sydlings Copse, a BBOWT nature reserve under threat from encroaching development to the north of the Oxford ring road.

Sydlings Copse by Jane Duff

“It is small – only 22 hectares – and is considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of Oxfordshire nature reserves. It has heathlands, amazing wildflower meadows, broadleaved woodland and a rare fen and supports over 400 plant species. It is of international ecological importance yet it is still under huge pressure from development.

“We need to respect and protect our natural world much more than we do. If an area is designated greenbelt, AONB, SSSI, SAC or SPA or landscape conservation area it means that it is likely to have very high biodiversity or landscape value and too often local authorities and government disregard their protection status such as with the recent loss of Calvert Jubilee nature reserve near Aylesbury.

Reedmace in Winter by Jane Duff

“This precious flagship reserve has a lake which is a haven for overwintering wildfowl, waders, bittern and tern and it has wildflower meadows with all five species of the rare UK hairstreak butterfly yet it is in the process of being razed to the ground to make way for HS2.

“One can’t always mitigate against loss of some habitats. It takes a very long time for a woodland to regrow with its complex ecology so we must do everything we can to take care of these special places. They are irreplaceable and I would say that it is deeply immoral to destroy them. I’m not sure if I’ve left it too late to paint Calvert jubilee nature reserve but I fear I might.”

You can see Jane’s work at The Wykeham Gallery, Stockbridge, at Iona House Gallery, Woodstock or through her website or Instagram account.

Picture of the week: 21/09/20

THIS week’s painting is a new work by Chilterns artist Sue Graham, who has often drawn inspiration from local landscapes.

A feature in April revealed how a series of paintings inspired by her love of the dawn chorus prompted her family to buy a croft and start planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.

One of her latest completed works takes its inspiration from a landscape at the other end of the country, in Cornwall.

EXPLOSION OF LIGHT: Sundown, St Ives, acrylic on board by Sue Graham

Sue explains: “In 2019 I decided to organise a group exhibition in St Ives, famous for its artist colony and a place I had always wanted to visit.

“It was a great week: off to have a beer and yoga on the beach every evening after I shut the exhibition doors, and wonderful company from my fellow artists. It was just a fabulous hard-working but energising experience.

“One evening I climbed up on the grassy slope above Porthmeor Beach as the sun was setting. The whole bay was lit up and the air itself seemed to glow.

“I wasn’t interested in catching a precise rendition in paint of St Ives viewed from the hill, more an expression of how it felt to be there at that moment: intoxicated by the sense of space, light, the natural world and infinite possibilities. 

“I started painting this in August 2019 when I got home: it started well and then I got lost in it. So I put it away, then Covid came and cancer came and by the time I felt like painting again I pulled it out and by then somehow in my mind I had resolved how to make it work.

“It’s often best to put things away when they get stuck, though I did at one point almost chop it into pieces. This is painted on board: it’s a weird surface, ungiving and thirsty, but it makes for some great textures if you layer the paint and scrape it back again. That’s the technique I used for the foreground, which is my favourite part.”

Picture of the week: 14/09/20

TO MARK Hertfordshire’s annual open studios programme, our third picture of the week is another featured artist from the event.

Our focus is on artists specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife working in any medium, and our latest selection is a colourful painting by Mary Ann Day.

BOLD COLOURS: Red Sky at Night, Hertfordshire, by Mary Ann Day

A self-taught artist whose work has featured in several exhibitions on the outskirts of London, Mary Ann has experimented with different styles and textures, using a palette knife in much of her work. She continues to be excited by the “magic of paint” and says she is travelling on “an artistic journey that continues on a never-ending rollercoaster of discovery”.

Her work features various themes but is notable for its bold, bright colours, sometimes laid on in thick layers but always vibrant and often evoking far-off wind-lashed islands like Hawaii and Fiji.

“Colour is the key to my work,” she explains. “Without colour life would be a very dull place.”

The Herts Visual Arts event runs until September 30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.

Do you have a favourite artist or sculptor specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work? We’d love to receive your nominations for future works to feature in our Picture of the Week slot – drop a brief explanation for the reasons for your choice to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk.

Picture of the week: 07/09/20

TO MARK Hertfordshire’s annual open studios programme, our second picture of the week is another featured artist from the event.

Our focus is on artists specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work in any medium, and this week’s painting is a new work by Alexander James Gordon.

LIGHT AND COLOUR: Daybreak by Alexander James Gordon

Inspired by colour and light, Alexander’s influence comes from watching the sky and imagining the possibility of colour to use within his oil paintings.

He lives and works in Barnet and his paintings are abstract landscapes using oils and a palette knife, which enables him to leave visible marks on the canvas, creating a subtle textural layer to the painting.

His oil painting demonstration for the virtual open studios section of the Herts Visual Arts website shows him explaining his technique during the early stages of creating Daybreak.

More paintings are featured on his own website, which also includes information about future exhibitions.

The Herts Visual Arts event runs until September 30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.

Do you have a favourite artist or sculptor specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work? We’d love to receive your nominations for future works to feature in our Picture of the Week slot – drop a brief explanation for the reasons for your choice to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk.

Picture of the week: 31/08/20

TO MARK the start of Hertfordshire’s annual open studios event, we’re launching a new weekly art feature.

The focus is on artists specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife working in any medium and nominations are always welcome.

LOCAL LANDSCAPES: Avenue of Trees – Rothamsted Park by Andrew Keenleyside

To kick-start the series, our first ever Picture of the Week is one of a series of local landscapes produced by Hertfordshire artist Andrew Keenleyside, a regular exhibitor at the annual Herts Visual Arts event, which this year includes a wide range of virtual galleries and demonstrations.

Andrew is a painter and printmaker living and working in Hertfordshire who enjoys chronicling the changing seasons at a number of local locations.

His work and approach to painting have been influenced by a variety of artists: Pissarro and Sisley in terms of subject matter, Matisse and the Fauves in his use of colour.

He works in oils on both board and canvas and the picture chosen is one of 15 forming part of his online gallery for the open studios event showing Rothamsted Park, formerly part of the Manor of Rothamsted, owned by Sir John Lawes.

AVENUE OF LIMES: Rothamsted Park features in a series of Andrew’s pictures

Lawes initiated agricultural experiments in 1843 which led to the founding of the nearby Rothamsted Experimental Station, one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world.

He also created the formal entrance from Leyton Road to what is now the park and planted the avenue of lime trees in 1931.  Seven years later the Harpenden Urban District Council purchased the land to provide playing fields and preserve an important open space.

Other popular local spots featured in his paintings include Southdown Ponds on Harpenden Common, and the Nickey Line footpath and cycleway on the former railway line linking Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead.

Galleries featured on his website include paintings in Norfolk, where he has family connections, and other holiday destinations at home and abroad.

The Herts Visual Arts event runs until September 30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.

Do you have a favourite artist or sculptor specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work? We’d love to receive your nominations for future works to feature in our Picture of the Week slot – drop a brief explanation for the reasons for your choice to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk.

 

Virtual visitors enjoy Herts arts

HERTFORDSHIRE artists are taking their annual open studios event online next month.

And although the move was forced by ongoing coronavirus restrictions, it means this year Herts Visual Arts will be able to host an extraordinary range of virtual events around the clock.

LOCAL LANDSCAPES: Harpenden Ponds, Southdown Road by Andrew Keenleyside

The county network for artists and creatives is celebrating its 30th anniversary and to mark the event is planning 30 themes over 30 days for its annual #HertsOpenStudios celebration of local talent.

As well as a social media wall, the group website features dozens of artist’s galleries and videos of them at work in their studios or explaining their techniques, like the oil painting demonstration produced by Alexander James Gordon (below).

The month-long art celebration follows similar events earlier in the year in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

There will be live personal events and exhibition visits too, normally involving advance booking and social distancing restrictions.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: Red Sky at Night, Hertfordshire by Mary Ann Day

But the virtual celebration means that visitors can seek out artwork and demonstrations at any of the day, popping back numerous times to explore different trails and techniques, with videos including studio tours, demonstrations and individual artists explaining and showing off their latest work.

The event runs from September 1-30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.

COUNTRY RETREAT: Basildon Park by Susan Edwards

Local artists open their doors

ART lovers in Buckinghamshire who enjoyed this year’s open studios events should make a note in their diaries for June 2020.

Once again, hundreds of local artists and makers across the county will be throwing open their doors for a fortnight next summer to showcase their work.

TWO WRENS, SINGING

SOUNDS OF NATURE: Two Wrens, Singing by Sue Graham

The Bucks Arts Weeks project – which follows similar events across Oxfordshire in May – allows the public a unique opportunity to hear artists, sculptors, printmakers, photographers and jewellery makers talk about their work and see them in action.

The open studios scheme has been running in Buckinghamshire since 1985 and all the events are free to the public – including exhibitions, pop-up displays and dozens of working studios.

From calligraphy to ceramics and sculpture to digital art, the skills on display include printmaking, jewellery, drawing and painting, metalwork and photography.

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights include many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape.

SUE GRAHAM

OPEN STUDIOS: artist Sue Graham at work

Geographically the open studios and exhibitions stretch from Milton Keynes and Buckingham in the north to Aylesbury, Chesham, High Wycombe, Chorleywood, Henley and Maidenhead, on the southern edge of the county.

Some towns like Princes Risborough, Amersham and Chesham have their own trail maps and exhibitors are grouped geographically to make it possible to visit a number at a time.

In 2020 the programme takes place from June 6 to June 21, incorporating three weekends.

Past highlights have included striking works by local artists like Sue Graham which have graphically illustrated the loss of birdsong from woods and gardens.

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MISSING VOICES: Going, Going, Gone by Sue Graham

To the north of the county, the striking fine art photographs of David Quinn have reflected landscapes from the Outer Hebrides to Vietnam, while Katy Quinn has also found inspiration in the landscapes of Scotland and Scandinavia for her jewellery and glass art.

Pop-up exhibitions suddenly appear in churches and village halls across the county, but visitors have to slip into Bedfordshire to see the striking landscapes of Graham Pellow, who works in a variety of mediums and has found inspiration in his local surroundings since moving to Leighton Buzzard.

Another artist inspired by local landscapes is Alexandra Buckle, many of whose linocuts are woodland themed, reflecting her love of walking her dog in the woods. Her proximity to National Trust properties like Stowe, Waddesdon and Claydon also allows easy access to locations which can provide watery reflections and scenes with interesting combinations of colours or dramatic light.

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SENSE OF HISTORY: An Epsiode of Sparrows by Julie Rumsey

Further south in the Chalfonts, working from her gorgeous garden studio in Chalfont St Giles, Julie Rumsey has branched out into mixed media work using acrylic as well as her eye-catching collagraphs, many of which have been inspired by ancient naïve artefacts.

She haa exhibited alongside contemporary fine artist E J England, who often uses damaged vintage books as a canvas and whose works are inspired by the landscapes, cityscapes, flora and fauna of the British Isles.

Animals, flowers and the natural world also provide inspiration for the work of Jay Nolan-Latchford,whose eclectic body of art and home decor ranges from watercolour illustrations with embellishments through to large mixed media canvases.

JAY NOLAN-LATCHFORD

INTO THE NIGHT: Jay Nolan-Latchford creates a mystical mood

Sally Bassett is another artist inspired by the Chiltern countryside, as well as the wild sea coasts of the west country. Her work explores and celebrates the seasons of the year, her paintings dynamic, bold and full of colour, energy and movement.

Similar themes are echoed by artist and tutor Susan Gray, who runs workshops and painting days from her studio in Wendover and exhibits in Cornwall and London, as well as in Buckinghamshire.

Also drawing inspiration from the beauty of the Chilterns countryside is Christine Bass, whose vivid tropical colour schemes betray her Trinidadian roots and feature extraordinary scenes across the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Ivinghoe Beacon to Bledlow Ridge.

She is one of a number of artists and craft workers who have shown their work in the atmospheric surroundings of St Dunstan’s Church in Monks Risborough.

Track beneath Ivinghoe Beacon

FAVOURITE WALK: a track beneath Ivinghoe Beacon

During the fortnight of displays and demonstrations, visitors can buy or commission work – or even try their hand at some of the skills or sign up for classes. Prices range from postcards and small gifts costing a few pounds to major pieces of original artwork or sculpture costing hundreds.

Any artist or maker interested in taking part next year should contact the organisers on admin@bucksartweeks.org.uk.

Hundreds of artists are featured at venues across Buckinghamshire from June 6 until June 21. Free hard copy directories are available from May from art galleries, libraries, tourist information centres and participating venues.