For most of my life I have been a water-colourist, carrying paint box and pencils with me wherever I went, never happier than when I was out on Dartmoor with the dog, painting landscapes. I’ve always loved to paint the view where stone walls, Devon hedges and gateways meet with tall trees. It’s not just the subject itself but the spaces between.
I was a pupil of Sherree Valentine-Daines who is a celebrated portrait artist and painter of huge crowd scenes. She taught me to observe and to look hard into the subject. I learnt to paint indoor scenes by painting the spaces around furniture and the shapes made by the gaps, before moving to the outdoors . It also taught me to look into and beyond the subject.
I was recently reading a passage in a Salley Vickers novel which jumped off the page as she talked of a music academic who was ‘in love with the gaps,’ ‘with the speaking spaces in a musical score’. Her character, and I suspect Salley Vickers, as a psycho analyst, is fascinated by the gaps made by people and the gaps in people and how they get filled.
Without wandering too far astray, I was asked to depict the four elements ,plus day and night for a Pilgrimage Gardens, on 12 – 15ft lengths of sliced tree trunks. As a water-colourist, I had no idea where to begin or if I could remotely attempt such a commission. As soon as I saw the sliced lengths, I knew immediately. It was all about the spaces between the lines. My gaps. Now I had the ultimate progression from painting the extraordinary shapes of trees to painting the equally wonderful shapes in the tree. This time with a huge sense of responsibility to tell the tree’s own story of growth and not to fudge over any of the lines, each of which represents a year of it’s life. I sit with the bare piece until I see where to start and what is emerging from it. There is always something, like the small child straining to put up it's hand the highest, desperate to tell its story.
I have a forester friend who lives nearby, who knows everything about trees and wood. He supplies me with wood, often phoning to say that he has an interesting piece that I should see. Usually I go for said piece, knowing I will need it when I see it, and come home with 10 other lengths for future work.
The medium is hard wearing acrylic, several coats. Dave, the woodman planes off the slices then I do a further planing and several grades of fine sanding until I get the surface I want. The wood is then treated for woodworm, and using my jigsaw, I shape it. Finally, it has a waxy sealant over the top to protect it.