Saturday, 19 June 2010

What I got from Cornwall's Open Studios

I don't think when I did my last posting that I realised how time consuming having builders would be.
Our routine was somewhat changed while the new conservatory was built and then again this week when we had the outside of the house and the sitting room painted.  Having to move the two cars out into the street as soon as I got up, provide a certain amount of tea and coffee (although I left the conservatory people to do their own thing  using the studio) and generally keep things ticking over all took time.  But we now have a lovely conservatory which doesn't leak!  It is also much brighter as the roof of the old one was corrugated plastic.  We had to wait until last weekend to get the doorstep and decking installed but now the only thing still to come is the arrival of a small sofa to replace the old garden chairs that we have used since we moved here.

And the house and garden walls look much better for new white paint although you can't see them on this side of the house.

While all this was going on it was Cornwall's Open Studios which run for ten days over half-term week.  I have never been tempted to take part as I don't consider myself a professional and we do not have a suitable space here, but this means I am free to go to other people's.  Interestingly the whole event is concentrated in West Cornwall, underlining the fact that this is a very creative corner of the country.  St Ives artists do not usually take part because they have their own Open Studios in September as part of the St Ives Festival.  I usually start by getting the official guide, making a special note of people with the word 'textiles' in their entry and then sorting out a couple of half day trips where I can visit two or three studios.  Finding them is often the main problem since artists tend to live in the middle of nowhere down lanes that are small even by Cornish standards.  But once you get there you often find wonderful gardens (and houses/cottages) and make lots of useful contacts.

This year I found someone living in this village.  Chema Cruz is a Mexican who paints on a range of fabics which he does not prime so we had an interesting conversation about the properties of different surfaces.  I then struck lucky when I went to Trewidden Studios which is a complex of artists' studios that opened last September, only five minutes drive from here.  There are about fifteen artists based there, several of whom are now beginning to offer courses and workshops.  This is great as most teaching has been in St Ives and the problems with parking really put people from this side of the peninsula off.  I signed up for two courses, one of which I did last weekend.

This was a drawing course taught by Mark Spray.  There were only three of us on it and we all knew each other already.  The first day was spent sketching in Nanquidno Valley near Lands End. I know this valley well but the other participants had not been there.  Mark once lived near it and had done a whole project on it which meant that he knew all the places to stop and draw the many rock formations.  I failed to take any photos until lunchtime but these will give you an idea of what it is like.

This was taken looking up the valley.  There are old mine workings in the middle distance on the right which were interesting to draw as they contrast with the granite boulders all around.

And this in Nanjulian Cliff at the bottom of the valley.  You can just see Sennen Cove in the background and the path is the South West Coast Path.  We spent the afternoon here, having made sketches as we walked down the path in the morning.

Here is my attempt at drawing the beach which is all rocks but has interesting colour changes.

And here, I hope, are the main elements of Nanjulian Cliff.  We experimented with different tools including using oil paint stick which is wonderful for portraying the mass of granite boulders.  As you can see from the photos we were extremely lucky with the weather.  It was a really perfect way of spending a day.

Sunday dawned rather cloudy and after lunch there was a torrential downpour but it did not matter as we were working in Mark's studio.  We worked on larger versions of our sketches and each of us interpreted them in different ways.  I realised that I tend to be a bit design based and I did not achieve as much as the other two but I had chosen to do the course in order to get myself back into practice after a rather unproductive year.  As I am not an artist I sometimes fail to recognise that producing a good drawing or painting takes a long time and means going back to it in the same way that I do with textile work.  I need to go back to the drawings I began (before house painters took up my week) but in true textile style I cut up one that had worked in parts and stuck the good bits in my sketchbook.  Now I need to make notes beside these bits so that I can remember what I did.  I also want to think about whether any of the techniques I learnt might work on fabric.

I have also signed up for a collograph printing course in September with another of the Trewidden based artists, Peter Wray  runs short courses in printing and also has a drop-in system for people who have done the courses and just want access to a press.  This is ideal for me as I have no intention of buying one!  I have done some printing and am really keen to do more.  I find it appeals to me more than painting and it is so quick compared with textiles!


  1. The conservatory is looking good. You must be very pleased with the result. Impressed with your sketches, I am aiming to similar next week. Scary stuff with pencils, can cope with sewing machine - odd. Collograph printing is great fun, would love to do more, but time!!! One thing I found is the inks are very messy! Have fun.

  2. The artist teaching the collograph course warned me about messy fingers when I said I had a wedding to go to in early October but I hope that three weeks will be enough time for them to come clean.