17th Burnham Art Trail
Saturday 19th June to Sunday 27th June 2021
Day 7 Friday
Lettering, patterns, crafts.
When I was asked to write something about the influence of photography, travel and the garden on my work in different media and/or something about my garden/studio I didn’t know where to start. Exactly how does photography and travel influence my work? Why do I even have a garden – or a studio (that was never in my plan)? In fact I never had a plan. So how on earth did my creative journey evolve? It took a bit of digging through the archives to find out but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.
Although art was my favourite subject at school I don’t remember being any good at it, nor can I remember anything I achieved. A quick look at my old school reports shows that ‘I worked hard’, ‘continued to improve’ and ‘showed a lively interest’. That pretty much describes me now, over half a century later! Only three comments contained clues as to where my creative talents might lead me: ‘lettering shows progress’, ‘good craft work’ and ‘some pleasing pattern work’. It’s already starting to make sense.
The first record of my having produced anything creative was my beloved ‘Doodle book’ – a school notebook filled with patterns which I produced intuitively, probably inspired by the emerging pop culture of the 60’s. I have looked back through that many times over the years wondering ‘where did that innate talent go? and ‘how do I get it back? Writing this article has made me think I knew the answer all along!
As for crafts, I spent a lot of my childhood leisure time making things from kits. By far my favourite was Bayko – a bakelite building model construction kit, from which I developed a fascination with buildings. In the late 60s, I bizarrely developed an obsession with making Airfix cars. When, in 1968, I was interviewed for a job as a junior scientist at what was then known locally as ‘The Fisheries’ and was asked what my hobbies were. I mentioned the Airfix cars and added ‘I think I’m quite creative’. The response was ‘you won’t get a chance to be creative here’! However, I got the job (the idea of a mini-skirted 17 year old girl making Airfix cars was probably too intriguing) and spent the next 35 years pretending to be a scientist. I did surprisingly well considering science was the last thing I had considered as a career – but, looking back, I realise that my main achievements were where I had freedom to bring creativity into the task in hand. However, it also brought numerous frustrations on the occasions when I had managers who didn’t understand creativity and insisted that ‘we should do things the way we always have’.
One thing I did get out of my work at ‘The Lab’ was a husband! In 1972, Andrew and I married and bought the house which we still live in. Keen to learn to cook, I popped into the Crouch Press to buy my first cookery book. It was called ‘Round the World Cookery’. This was a real eye-opener for someone who had been brought up on traditional 1950s meat and two veg in a town which had yet to have its first ethnic restaurant. Before long I was obsessed with food and travel and, during periods when I was frustrated by work as a scientist, even dabbled at being a food and travel writer/photographer.
However, there was a problem with being an enthusiast of world food in 1970s Burnham – you couldn’t get the ingredients. The solution was to grow my own. We were lucky enough to have bought a house with a reasonably sized plot so I jumped on the ‘Good Life’ bandwagon becoming almost self sufficient in fruit and veg. It was fun for a while but I decided that, in our dry climate, vegetables were too high maintenance for me, especially when combined with cooking, travelling, writing (and work!) so I gradually switched to ornamental plants.
It took a while to learn how to get the planting right but, once I did, my creativity really kicked in. Then I got interested in garden design and, since the plants which did suit our dry climate were mostly from around the Mediterranean, this was the first style that I developed, inspired by a number of idyllic holidays in Andalucia. This led to an interest in water features, tiles and mosaics.
When we added some blue tiles to our pond and a garden tent in which to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset, visitors suddenly started describing the garden as ‘Moroccan’ insisting that I must have been inspired by the Majorelle gardens in Marrakech. I hadn’t even heard of them, let alone been there! However, I began to realise that many of the things that I was attracted to were connected to Morocco – one of the first dishes I cooked from my world cookery book was Moroccan couscous, the first place I visited abroad was Morocco, the tiles that I loved on my travels were of Moorish origin and I even bought a metal trellis without realising that it was Moroccan. In fact I first became attracted to Andrew when I heard him telling people about an adventurous trip he had just returned from in Morocco!
By now, my creative streak had really taken hold and during the 1980s designer knitwear era (remember those sheep and liquorice allsorts jumpers!?) I bought a knitting machine. This was the first time that I felt a real visceral passion for creating and I would spend all day at work creating patterns in my head, desperate to get home to turn them into punchcards and then jumpers. The knitting bug eventually wore off but not until I had created about 100 jumpers and taken part in a fashion show, as well as producing designs for the sweatshirt designer – Robert Norfolk.
By the start of the new millennium my interest in travel photography switched from still to video and editing films became my latest time-consuming enthusiasm. This led to me being asked to make a film of the Burnham Festival, better known as Riverfest, which took place each summer for about 15 years at the turn of the millennium. My film covers the period from 2000 to 2005 during which the festival was a whole month long and, as well as a wide range of music (in a wide range of venues!) included theatre, walks, gardens, food and exhibitions. If you read Tracey’s post you will see that in 2005 it also gave birth to the Art Trail. Keen to get involved, I offered my garden as a venue and have thoroughly enjoyed sharing it with a range of talented artists over the years. I would have loved to have something of my own to exhibit but, apart from the garden itself, this would have to wait awhile.
In 2003, I attended a stunning exhibition of Zimbabwean stone carvings at RHS Hyde Hall. I would have loved to have one for our garden had they not been huge and expensive so, when I found that they were offering a day course led by one of Zimbabwe’s top carvers, I jumped at the chance to learn to make my own. That day, on a shaded slope overlooking the lake, chipping away at blocks of stone was one of the best of my life and provided further confirmation that creativity was what made me happiest and that carving may be an outlet for it. So I did another course, brought loads of stone home with me and started carving. By 2014 I had enough pieces to enter the Art Trail. At last I was consciously making art – and people liked it! I loved having the goal of producing something for the Art Trail each year and, once the Zimbabwe stone ran out (and I needed a less messy hobby!), started experimenting with different media including photographic prints, found objects, computer parts and attempting to find my style in painting.
So what about the studio? The decision to replace our old garage with a utility room provided me an opportunity to design a building which would be in keeping with the Mediterranean/Moroccan/African style of the garden (remember that childhood love of Bayko?).This what we now call ‘The Studio’ which we open up each year for the Art Trail. However, I have never really used it for my creative pursuits (although the large butler sink is brilliant for washing paintbrushes!). My working studio is actually our loft which, apart from the garden, is my favourite place in our home.
We’d talked for years about getting a place abroad but had no idea where, other than that it had to be warm and by the sea. So one rainy day in 2006 I popped into a bookshop and chanced upon A Place in the Sun – a book based on the TV series in which each country listed was listed alphabetically. It wasn’t until I got to M that I realised what I should have known all along – Morocco! The first sample property listed was in the little coastal town of Essaouira and, although we hadn’t been there, suddenly it was obvious! Within months we had bought a pretty little apartment in the medina and, since then, I have discovered more creativity there than I ever imagined possible as well as learning new skills such as tadelakt (the polished plaster traditionally used for hammams).
So when I wanted some tiles to decorate the door of the garden studio I asked our friend Saïd to suggest a Moroccan quote which would suit our garden. He then translated into Arabic, got a calligrapher to design it and a tile maker to carve it ….
ان في وسط الدار حدائق و ماء رقراق
‘In the centre of the home there are gardens and bright clear water’
My art teacher was right – lettering, patterns, crafts!
Frances and Andrew have shared a video of their amazing trip to Festival in the Desert – watch this at the end of today’s post.
Jim paints and draws in a variety of media, producing work from his imagination and from the observation of different sources.
Lindsey is a botanical artist using coloured pencils to draw detailed images of plants and vegetation. She finds inspiration when out walking locally and likes to reflect on the changes seasons in her work.
Lindsey is new to the art trail.
Elizabeth finds inspiration for watercolours along the Burnham foreshore where tides and the effect of light are ever changing. Indoors, she might concentrate on the intricate design of an antique tea cup.
Original hand drawn designs crafted in recycled silver and gold with a balance of modern boldness and the delicacy of time-honoured making techniques.
You can see more of Sophie’s jewellery on her Facebook page.
Tessa works in oil and mixed media on a gesso board surface with techniques that include scratching the surface to give texture. Her inspiration is the landscape of Essex marshes, fields, hedges and scrubland.
Friday’s selection of artists and makers is done for today. So perhaps it’s time for some music and a change of scenery – Frances and Andrew have shared their experiences of Timbuktu and the 2005 Festival in the Desert…