Writing this blog has bought with it many incredible opportunities — new friends, contacts, experiences, and just made my world a bigger, more colourful place. At times I’ve been incredibly lucky to hear about and have access to things that aren’t always available to the general public (it’s TB exclusive…sssh!). Today’s blog post comes from just such opportunity and is in fact also a tale of colour…and shape…
When the fabulous promoter of talented local artists, Bucks Open Studios contacted me and asked if I’d like spend the afternoon training with the brilliant artist Niki Bell, of course I leapt at the chance. I loved Niki’s work from the outset — mainly incredible, characterful wildlife watercolours, but she also includes prints and pastels in her repertoire. She’s a multi-skilled working artist who currently shows as part of the College Lake group for Bucks Open Studios. In addition to being a working artist she teaches in the Berkhamsted Arts & Crafts which of course made her the ideal candidate to instil some creative flair into my very dusty A-level Art skills.
I loved Niki’s studio. Set on a stables near Chesham and with artworks and tools displayed all over the white walls it felt like the ideal calm but creative environment to start my journey into the world of painting.
“We’re going to start with a warm up” she says. Oh dear I thought. Lots of bad office away days and ice breakers sprung to mind. Fortunately the warm up she was referring was more of a practice sketch (phew!) Inspired by her own incredible artworks I’d already chosen a hare as a subject so we took a couple of pictures to start sketching out. Niki showed me an easy and effective way to plan out the sketch using a set of proportional shapes. I was amazed at how quickly I could put something together that actually resembled the real thing!
Next up the real deal. So we moved on to my final hare subject and I sketched him out using the same technique using proportional shapes and lines adding a little extra flare to give character. Then came the paint! its amazing how terrified you feel as a grown adult, confronted with a few blobs of watercolour on a plate! Niki’s choice of paint colours for the hare were a combination of deep blues, ochres and burnt hues. Once the paints were mixed with some water and a few shade variations achieved and tested we started work on the painting. First up was a splattered application of masking fluid that would later give Niki’s signature white splatters on the hare. Who doesn’t love a bit of random splattering? That was the easy part. Next time to put paint to paper. We started by covering the area to be painted with water which would allow the paint to take. Once the water had started to absorb we could start layering up our paint starting with the lighter browns. Niki taught me to be bold with the paint and the brushstrokes as the colours gradually layered up. Its amazing how effective it looks as the layers of watercolour build, giving the painting depth and character. Blue layer was particularly scary but of course Niki knew best and encouraged me to be confident and the final effect was fantastic. Finished off with a few boldly coloured paint splatters my hare was good to go.
Whilst in my mind, my hare looks somewhat sinister, I can’t believe how actually respectably good he looks from very little previous skill or experience with painting or drawing. Niki’s techniques were both simple and effective and her engaging tutorial style made it both fun and easy to create a painting I could take home with pride. Even better than that I spent three relaxing hours in Niki’s company without a single thought the demands of my everyday busy life. Such a wonderful way to unwind, I would recommend getting back into painting to anyone and with skilful tuition it can be so much easier than you think. Lets face there’s no real right or wrong with art — beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so just go for it and enjoy the experience.
So what’s all this about?
As I mentioned Niki is just one of the hundreds of local artists who exhibit in and around Buckinghamshire every June, mostly opening up their studios to the public for a dazzling line up of free demonstrations, workshops and exhibitions. This year’s event is in fact set to be the biggest to date following a record number of entries from artists and makers across the county – 533 artists and makers are taking part in 200 venues. A wide range of disciplines including glass workers, potters, jewellery makers, photographers, painters, wood turners, textile artists, mosaic artists, furniture makers, sculptors and print makers.
Where can I see them?
Bucks Open Studios will be taking place 10–25th June. To find out more about where you can find your local artists click on the link at the bottom to find your local venues:
As well as the website they also have a “Directory” with all the artists including venue addresses, dates and opening times — these are available for free from libraries, art centres and galleries. Also look out for the yellow signs that start popping up from June which direct you to the venues.
Get out there and support your local artists — they will make your lives more vibrant and colourful guaranteed!
Photo credit Matthew Bishop Photography