Tweet of the week: 10/10/21

YOU don’t have to be an artist to keep a nature journal, but it’s always a delight to see a professional at work.

In her Drawn Into Nature blog, Bristol artist Jules Woolford explains how her love for the natural world led her to a career helping people to engage with nature and wildlife. And her @DrawnIntoNature Twitter account echoes that fascination.

ENGAGING WITH NATURE: Jules Woolford at work

“When I discovered the world of journaling, it was a natural progression to begin keeping a traditional nature journal, like my idols Edith Holden and Beatrix Potter,” she says.

Her beautifully illustrated journal is a personal, creative response to the natural world in which she shares stories of the flora and wildlife she encounters. But it’s more than that too, as we revealed in a feature earlier this year.

ON A MISSION: Jules encourages everyone to keep a nature journal

“My mission is to encourage as many people as possible to join me in creating their own journal,” she says. “I’m passionate about showing people the wonder of the natural world, literally ‘on the doorstep’. Gardens, local parks and green spaces, even roadside verges.

“You don’t have to live in an idyllic rural setting to engage with nature; part of my journaling patch is an ex-landfill site! My garden isn’t grand or landscaped, but it’s a wildlife friendly habitat full of native plants. We have a regular procession of daily visitors who keep us entertained….”

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: keeping a journal helps to fine-tune observation skills

And she is adamant that the life-changing benefits are not dependent on someone being a talented artist. “The good news is that it doesn’t matter,” she insists. “Improving your drawing comes over time, and keeping a journal is the ideal way to practise your skills.

“Looking deeply at nature helps you fine-tune your observation, and that helps you develop your drawing skills.”

Her blog came about through wanting to connect with others like herself who were interested in discovering the wonders of engaging more fully with the world around them.

She says: “Our lives are filled with noise, busy work, and negative stress. I’m on a journey to slow down and simplify; concentrate on experiences rather than things, try to worry less, be more grateful, and kind.

“Sometimes I take two (or three) steps backwards, but I keep going. Through my journals, I try to be an advocate for nature, caring for the planet and the life within it. I’m fascinated by the stories we’ve created about the natural world, and I love sharing these little tales from history, folklore and fable.”

TELLING TALES: Jules mixes stories from history, folklore and fable

If her mission sounds inspiring, take a moment to enjoy those wonderful pictures: in her occasional newsletters, Jules is frank about the fact that life can be an uphill struggle at times.

“I’ve been a bit lost with Notes from Nature in 2021,” she told her followers. “Life’s overtaken me, and I know from your kind messages and comments that many of you have felt the same this year.

“It’s been the kindness of friends and  the lovely folk who follow me online which has kept me going, so a huge thank you to you all.

UPHILL STRUGGLE: 2021 has posed unusual challenges for many

Back among the chittering grey squirrels scurrying to raid the hazel trees and cache their winter stores, Jules is only too well aware that this is the real world, where it is only too easy to overlook the important stuff: the autumn songs of blackbird and robin, the hedgerows decked in their autumn finery of deep red rose hips, crimson hawthorn and purple sloes.

She writes of her delight that a wonderful ‘ lost’ apple orchard on her patch has been brought back to life, full of old varieties with wonderful names such as Merton Charm, King of the Pippins, Gascoigne’s Scarlet, and Ashmeads Kernel.

But she’s conscious too that time spent on social media can be problematic, even when it brings so many positive benefits too.

AUTUMN SONG: portraits of some welcome garden visitors

“I learn something with every post I write and every drawing I do. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it,” she says.

“It’s easy to feel guilty, and forget about self-care when you seem to have so many responsibilities. I even begin to worry when I don’t post online – so this year I’ve tried to spend even spend more time than normal just being in nature; simply because that is the most important issue for me.

“I’ve not made as many journal pages as last year – but it’s fine.”

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

Tweet of the week: 03/10/21

SUNDAY night is the perfect time for a moment of quiet reflection about the week past and the week to come.

But if you like to start each day with a similarly peaceful few minutes of contemplation, one unlikely social media feed is worthy of a much wider audience.

SISTERS IN FAITH: Martha and Mary Magdalene by Caravaggio © Detroit Institute of Arts

@ChristianArtTod is the Twitter feed of art expert and seminarian Patrick van der Vorst, a Belgian-born auctioneer and industry expert who 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.

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.

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

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.

From Old Masters to street artists, the website features an extraordinary range of artworks spanning the centuries, allowing visitors to consider the daily gospel reading from a fresh perspective.

Characteristically, this takes the form of a mini-homily where Patrick’s expertise helps him to forge a better understanding of both the art work and the Bible story it might illustrate – and while his Twitter followers get a link to the website, subscribers get the daily reading delivered straight to their email inbox at 6am every day.

If the 200+ Twitter following sounds modest, the website claims to be sending out 800,000 emails a month, so the offering is not as low-key as it may first appear.

In case you missed them, here are some other favourite “Tweets of the week”:

@TheBeyonderUK: Our Chilterns online magazine may be small, but we do aim to brighten our followers’ week with features, interviews and interesting places to explore on our doorstep.

@A_AMilne: With 73,500 followers, this celebration of the wit and wisdom of the much-loved author and playwright taps into the timeless appeal of Pooh and his friends in Hundred Acre Wood.

@woolismybread: Solitude, sheep and collie dogs in the company of Yorkshire shepherdess Alison O’Neill, whose 38,000 followers appreciate her straight talking and love of life’s simple pleasures.

@fenifur: Dartmoor wanderings with “Sea Witch” Jenny, a pink-haired thirtysomething with a love of nature and the sea, as well as a fascination with foraging and wild swimming.

@HenryRothwell, whose morning and evening tweets pay tribute to artists like Eric Ravilious, and celebrate some stunning English landscapes.

@BooksAlbans and a string of other local independent bookshops whose tweets, podcasts, signings and author interviews delight book-lovers across the Chilterns.

Do you have any nominations for favourite Twitter accounts which brighten your life? Let us know your favourites by writing to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk and we’ll see if they should be featured in our Sunday night series.

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.

Vivid memories of a year in pictures

IT’S been a year since we launched our Picture of the Week series – and what a year it’s been.

Inspired by the open studios events staged across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire each year, the series was launched at a time when months of lockdown had prevented artists from getting out and meeting potential customers face to face.

Such events offer a great opportunity for artists and makers to throw open their doors and showcase their work, but if the lockdown put paid to such intimate contact, it certainly did not the cramp the enthusiasm and ingenuity of creative souls from all over the Chilterns.

MAUREEN GILLESPIE
LOCKDOWN WALK: Blenheim by Maureen Gillespie

Some turned to local walks near their homes for inspiration, while others took the opportunity to go back through old sketchbooks, sort out old photographs and revisit settings which had never quite made it on to canvas.

STOCKTAKE: Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes searched old sketchbooks for inspiration

And many seized the chance to improve their virtual galleries and reach out to customers through blogs, instagram posts and online shops.

PERSONAL TOUCH: Dorset artist Sam Cannon launched a monthly newsletter

Of course that’s not quite the same as getting to meet your customers in person, but as lockdown restrictions started to ease, those exhibitions, pop-up displays and working studio visits soon began to emerge again.

PERSONAL TOUCH: self-taught artist Sabbi Gavrailov from Hemel Hempstead

For wildlife and nature lovers, highlights of the weekly series have included many works inspired by or reflecting the natural world, including animal portraits and sculptures, and paintings rooted in the local Chilterns landscape, from the Ridgeway views of Anna Dillon and Christine Bass to the colourful Oxfordshire scenes captured by Alice Walker, Jane Peart and Sue Side.

VALE VIEW: Inchombe Hole, Buckinghamshire by Anna Dillon

We have ventured out into the parks of Harpenden with Andrew Keenleyside, explored the wetlands of Oxfordshire with Jane Duff and delved deep into Wytham Woods with Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley.

ROSIE FAIRFAX-CHOLMELEY
WOODLAND FORAY: a reduction linocut by Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley

A score of those local artists can be accessed through our Local Landscapes page, and their subject matter ranges from portraits to seascapes and abstract works.

SUE GRAHAM
CORNISH VISIT: Sundown, St Ives by Sue Graham

Further afield, Chilterns artists have taken on us on journeys from Cornwall to West Wales, while guest artists have hailed from as far afield as Dorset and the Lake District.

Photographers have featured too, patiently waiting for the perfect wildlife shot, whether otter or kingfisher, red kite or dragonfly.

FAIRGROUND FUN: handpainted gallopers at Carters Steam Fair

Over 52 weeks, the collection has grown into a formidable showcase of local talent, punctuated by occasional more unusual contributions, ranging from the fairground art of Joby Carter and family to a step back in time to enjoy the 1930s art of Eric Ravilious, the “happy little trees” of TV art legend Bob Ross or the stunning works of Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.

Do you have a nomination for an artist who should be featured in our weekly series? Write to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk explaining the reasons behind your choice.

Fairground favourites thrill the crowds

IT’S BEEN a pretty special bank holiday weekend at Pinkneys Green for Joby Carter and his family.

Here, to the sound of fireworks, steam engines and fairground organs, Carters Steam Fair has been celebrating its 40th visit to a favourite local venue in grand style.

The largest travelling vintage funfair in the world, the steam fair has delighted generations of local youngsters with lovingly restored rides dating from the 19th century to the 1960s.

And after being forced off the road by the pandemic, as we reported last year, the fair is back on the road for 2021, delighting families at a series of local venues until mid-October.

The vintage rides have featured in films ranging from Paddington 2 to Rocketman, and as dusk falls on Pinkneys Green, the screams of delight are a testimony to the enduring appeal of the fair, which offers rides suitable for toddlers, teenagers and the young at heart.

Set against a backdrop of flashing lights and pounding pistons, the fair provides visitors young and old with a sensory overload, as the scent of hot doughnuts mingles with the oil and steam of machines which are a triumph of mechanical engineering.

Part of the fair’s popularity lies in the extraordinary attention to detail with which vintage rides have been restored, from the precision engineering required to maintain moving parts to the artwork which has all been done by hand.

Says Joby: “I encourage anyone visiting to take a close look at the lettering and artwork at the fair. It has all been done by hand using traditional signwriting skills and techniques – no computers or fancy software programmes!

“Stand next to our brightly coloured trucks with huge lettering over 1 meter high and see if you can figure out how we manage to paint it all by hand!”

It was back in the late 1970s that show promoters John and Anna Carter first started their collection by buying a set of 1890s Jubilee Steam Gallopers that they could take to steam rallies and fairs.

As their passion for vintage fairgrounds grew, the Carters added more rides to their collection, with Anna’s artistic talents in restoring rides to their former glory helping to establish the fair’s specialism in vintage rides.

Joby was just a child at the time but soon followed in their footsteps. Now, with more than 20 years’ of signwriting experience, he even ended up teaching creative online courses on lettering and fairground art which helped the fair to survive a year of lockdown.

Those iconic gallopers are still going strong too, most of the horses having been carved from wood by Andersons of Bristol around 1910 and all subtly different from one another.

They are all named after friends and family on the fair, and the 46-key Gavioli organ bought from Roger Daltrey in 1979 helps to provide that unmistakeable fairground atmosphere.

Being based in Maidenhead, the Berkshire family has a particular affection for the Pinkneys Green venue where they have worked for four decades. But several other local favourites are on their 2021 itinerary too, including Hemel Hempstead, Holyport Green and Reading.

The same loving attention to detail is visible everywhere at the fairground, from the steam-driven yachts of the 1920s to a 1910 roundabout featuring an eclectic collection of creatures from running cockerels to hungry-looking pigs.

Restoring the worn-out 1960s dodgems cars has been a long labour of love for Joby and his team: a restoration process that took 25 years of on-and-off work, with a few finished just in time for them to enjoy a moment of Hollywood fame with the launch of the award-winning movie Rocketman about the life of Elton John.

From a coconut shy to duck- and fish-hooking games and test-your-strength “strikers”, the funfair has all the traditional elements of a country fair that would have delighted our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors and it provides fascinating insights into British social history.

“When a ride comes into our care, we research as much as we can and try to trace its ancestry,” says Joby. “If we’re lucky, we can even find photos of it from its heyday.”

Traditionally everything in the fair is moved around the country using vintage heavy lorries and magnificent showman’s living wagons. Like the rides, each of the fleet of lorries, some dating from the 40s, 50s and 60s, has been lovingly restored to its former glory and repainted in the distinctive red Carters livery.

Every bit as impressive are the beautifully decorated living wagons with cut-glass windows, lace curtains and premium wood and veneer inside, each with their own story to tell and many previously owned by well-known showmen or circus owners.

More information about the fair’s history and the background to individual rides, sideshows and vehicles can be found on their website. Details of Joby’s online signwriting courses can be found here. The fair moves to Hemel Hempstead for the next two weekends and future venues can be found here.

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

New friends and fresh perpectives

IT’S BEEN a month of meeting new friends and embarking on fresh adventures, despite the restrictions of a second national lockdown.

Competition solving can be thirsty work – so we were delighted to be able to offer a tasty tipple as our first ever picture quiz prize.

The quiz has been running for over a year now but our friends Kate and Ben Marston at Puddingstone Distillery near Tring kindly stepped in to make the contest a little more enticing by offering a 10cl bottle of artisan gin worth £10 to the winner of our November quiz.

The story behind the success of the couple’s small Hertfordshire distillery was the subject of a feature on our Rearing & Growing page, where we would like to feature more stories about local growers, smallholders, farm shops and food producers in the future.

Previous articles included an item on Cornish forager Rachel Lambert, while Olivia’s hunt for rosehips and subsequent rosehip syrup recipe featured in another post.

Roaming a little further afield, we were delighted to be able to write about Adam McCulloch’s website featuring walks across Kent, although our most popular recent posts have been those focusing on local adventures, hunting down fungi in local woods and enjoying the spectacular colours of the fall.

Meanwhile guest writer Lucy Parks has continued to entertain readers with her adventures with Cypriot rescue dog Yella over in Amersham. Lucy and other members of the 50-strong Beyonder Facebook group have also been sharing pictures from their autumn rambles.

It has also been a real delight this month to expand our range of local artists featured in our Picture of the Week series.

Hot on the heels of the local landscapes of painters and printmakers like Jane Duff, Christine Bass and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley, it was a pleasure to be able to feature the photography of Anne Rixon and the extraordinarily intricate embroidery of textile artist Rachel Wright.

Apart from giving us a chance to support local artists during this difficult time, it has been fascinating to find out all the different ways in which they respond to local landscapes and wildlife in their art.

Watch this space for some more treats over the next three weeks as we embark on a lockdown adventure with Beaconsfield artist Tim Baynes.

In the meantime, our interest in the history under our feet was piqued by earthworks in a corner of Burnham Beeches which hark back to medieval times.

Following similar journeys into the past in search of highwaymen and the heyday of stagecoach travel, our latest trip back in time explored the story of Hartley Court, a medieval moated farmhouse buried deep in the woods.

There’s still time to enter the November competition if you fancy a sparkling G&T – and if you have any time to spare, our features archive now includes dozens of articles about some of the people and places we’ve had the honour to during the past couple of years preparing for the formal launch of the website.

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.