‘A Riot of Flowers’ – Mural Painting in Normandy

Over the course of four days, a collaboration for a mural painting for a bathroom in a 17th century Manoir, developed from the brief: ‘I picture a Riot of Flowers’. Working with Isabella Palin, the main bathroom was given some extra life.

This is how it was done.

1. A blank wall is presented. A discussion about what is expected throws up the phrase ‘a riot of flowers’ and time is spent in the room getting a feeling for the space.

a blank wall
A blank wall

2. A mood board is created – Pinterest comes in very handy at this stage! Ideas are thrown around.

3. Colour notes are collected using paint charts and paint samples. A group of compatible colours are chosen.

Preparing a colour palette.

A local paint merchant was very good in making up small pots of colour-matched samples – we selected the circled colours as the core palette.

4. Studies of flora around the garden and surrounding areas are made.


5. Designs are created and mocked up in cut out shapes. These are attached to the wall with masking tape and moved about until the positions are agreed to be satisfactory.


6. Once the composition is agreed, a light chalk is used to mark in the main positions. Cutouts are rubbed in the back with chalk dust and used as transfers to mark the design onto the wall. Designs for smaller elements are made on paper and transferred in the same way by drawing over them onto the wall, the chalk on the back leaving the marks for painting in.

7. Paint!

painting a mural

Keep going until its done!

Finished work
We can go back and add more details later but its finished enough for now.

mural detail

Silver skipper butterfly

A Happy Ending

I never feel happy with the work I do, but this message was reassuring:

Every time we go into the bathroom we are awestruck! The wall is so beautiful, cannot imagine how we lived with it all bare before… The final touches, the little butterfly and the rosebuds are delicious. A huge thank you – it couldn’t be more successful.

A Baby at the Studio

Baby at the studio
Sleeping or no, I can still paint.

I have found that taking my baby to the art studio is working quite well and I am able to do some painting with her there.

She can sleep, or stay in the basket playing with toys, or sit on my hip carrier as I paint. I can even work at the table on smaller icons as I nurse her. (Thank you nursing pillow!)

I can’t do portrait work but the icons are so tightly designed that it is easy enough to work in short bursts.

(I am trying to make the most of this time – I think when she is crawling it will be rather different…but sorting our house out is also taking up a lot of time)

Having the baby has also focused my mind so I have to use the time I do get to best effect, and this also is good for my art practice. She has also inspired ideas for work and as she grows I want her to see that adults can continue do art and its not just for children. At this tender age she seems to enjoy looking at the paintings too. Interesting patterns.

I hope this encourages other artists with babies or thinking of babies to realise that It Will Be OK.

Stair Poetry Mural

Stair poetry mural
In sliver light, an August moon…

This stair mural is created using Nature Paint from the Greenshop and poetry written for the house by Rob Clucas-Tomlinson. The poem will continue around the house and later, in the garden too.
The painting is based on a honeysuckle design. It took about a week from design to completion.

In silver light, an August moon
On tip-toes
Courts the curved green hills.

icon painting of a buffalo goddess

The Fancy Lady of 2013

icon painting of a buffalo goddess
The Fancy Lady of 2013

2013 is over now. It began for me with a fantastic party in a big country house, a buffalo dance in a king’s coat, and an icy swim in a pond. It ended with a baby. That party was the last time I got drunk and I’m glad I didn’t know I was already pregnant at the time as I would have never had such fun.

The title of this painting was given by a small boy who saw me drawing the sketch for it on new year’s day.

The baby has accompanied me at the studio as I completed it.

The Secret is Out

The Museum in the Park in Stroud holds an annual Secret Postcard fundraiser. There are some far more illustrious artists than I taking part, from James Dyson to Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen, Cleo Mussi to Dennis Gould – but it is open to anyone so I thought I would make a postcard for the event. Its meant to be a secret ! but the show is over and the cards are to be allocated randomly to ticket holders later this week. So if you get this one you will know who its by, but then you will anyway, because my name is on the back.

Mother & Child
Mother & Child

Dreaming the Universe Into Existence

The Birth Goddess
a sketch of the birth goddess/creator of the universe

As part of the preparation for the recent birth of my daughter, I read a bit about birth art and a lot about natural labour and childbirth. Naturally for such a significant event I was going to have ideas for icons and this is the sketch of the image that came to me one day.

I hope you are not offended; having gone through the process my view of the female body is radically altered and I have no shame left so to me this drawing now expresses something natural and magnificent. Before the birth I was much more uneasy about it.

I was very lucky in that despite having just passed my 40th birthday a few days before the birth (and therefore feeling I was a bit old for this sort of thing) the baby was born in the birth pool and I had no need of pain relief (though that isn’t what I said at the time…)

The Goddess is not asleep – but she is dreaming the universe into existence. Life and death emerge from her body dreaming and rivers of energy flow from her being. A rainbow signals hope and the arrival of the new.The twins are like a yin and yang – the dark and light. Life begins here and at the end, she will take us back into her dark embrace, to nourish the next event with the afterbirth of experience.

I made this before the birth and having seen very few birth goddess images. Yet it features several elements that match other artist’s work on the theme.

Having now given birth I still feel it very clearly and strongly still works – if rather idealised – but then she is a Goddess after all.

This will form the central figure in a large icon painting I am planning, which will also feature the guardian angels (birth partners and midwife) and other characters in the process of this experience.

She Walks Among Us

A painting of a pregnant woman with the words 'She Walks Among Us' across the top
She Walks Among Us

I made this painting a long time ago, from a quick outline doodle I’d drawn of someone I saw in the street. I used to display it at the Kew Studio, in the staircase gallery, where the staff at the nursery on the ground floor would turn it round to face the wall.

Presumably they thought it was too much for the small children to bear seeing, but I was quite surprised by their reaction. Obviously it was really the women themselves who were upset: I can’t see how a two- or three-year-old would even notice it or be in the least bit offended or traumatised by this very plain silhouetted figure.

This painting was also listed on ebay as part of my studio clear-out earlier this year, but it was one of the few that wouldn’t sell, despite being listed repeatedly. So there she sat in the ‘what to do with these’ box for another few months.

At that stage she didn’t have a halo or any words, but after becoming pregnant for the first time this year I have become more interested in art relating to pregnancy and birth. This has led to an exploration of various ancient and modern iconic images and figures of pregnant and birthing women, and this painting seemed to me to be part of this tradition. I felt as though I had already seen the birth goddess without realising it, so I wanted to bring her into my icon collection.

The addition of Rhine Gold dust from the Greenshop, applied to a coating of size, has turned her into the goddess she clearly always was.

Studio Open 23 & 24 August

Art studio open stroud
If you are in town, come along and have a look around

You’re invited to join me for a drink and a look around at my studio on London Road in Stroud. It will be open on Friday 23rd August 6-8pm and again on Saturday morning 10-12. Pop in on your way to the market or after work on Friday.

The studio is around the back of London Road, in the car park near the exit of the Brunel multistorey parking. (Turn in from the Waitrose roundabout).

New work for a project ‘This is my religion’ involving a series of icons is in progress, and I’ve also been working on poetry paintings and a couple of portraits.

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Reflecting on ‘Painting By Numbers – A Portrait of Stroud’

I’d like to thank the 350+ people who took the time to contribute to the Painting By Numbers project at Unit 56 as part of the SVA Site Contemporary Art Festival in Stroud, Gloucestershire in May 2013.

I am finally getting round to writing a few notes about what I learnt from this, my first public participation art project.

What was ‘Painting By Numbers’?

Painting By Numbers: Everyone a Rembrandt?
Everyone a Rembrandt?

The idea of Painting by Numbers was invented in 50’s America. Alexander Chancellor wrote in Guardian on this topic:

“In the prosperous postwar America of the 1950s, painting by numbers was promoted as an educative use of the “new leisure”. It also claimed to represent the American democratic ideal that anyone should be able to do anything, including paint. Hence the slogan ‘Every Man a Rembrandt’.”

The desire to test, cross and dissolve boundaries is a theme, indeed an ever-recurring fact, of my life. So it is naturally a central driver in my art practice.

When I first had the idea for this public art project, I wanted to create a tension, in bringing the aesthetic of this famous but oft-despised art form into an arena of High Art.

It would also allow the crossing of the boundary between artist and audience, to be thrown into question.

If the audience make the art, does that devalue the art? Who owns it? What is the point of the artist? Can’t everyone be an artist?

The Process

At the beginning
At the beginning, numbered spaces on a board, and some numbered paint pots.

I presented a large board (approx 2.4 x 1.2 m) decorated with an outline pattern, in which each space had a number between 1- 100 in it.

As people entered they were offered a numbered paint pot and invited to add to the artwork. If pressed I avoided directly answering questions about what they are meant to do and would only ask them to add or contribute, without specifying in what way.

However, most people recognise what one visitor called ‘the ritual’ of this practice and they quickly proceed to participating in the established framework.

The Results

Titled ‘A Portrait of Stroud‘ the image was based on a design built from a satellite image of the Stroud Valleys. While many people guessed it represented some kind of map or terrain, only one person had guessed precisely what the image was based on.

A wide range of people participated
A wide range of people participated

With so many people of all ages participating in bringing the artwork to life, there was a lot of evolution through the process. Several contributors added creative touches, deliberately or by accident, from ghosts to sheep, Pollock-style sprays, text, polka dots, and determined yet chaotic toddler’s splashes.

The 100 numbered paint colours were hand-mixed for each session using natural paint pigments and a clay paint base, donated by The Greenshop and served up in compostable Vegware pots. Support from Stroud Arts Festival covered other expenses and a workshop with myself and illustrator Rebecca Ashdown on traditional painting techniques.

The local papers covered it and the fabulous Mould TV gang shot a YouTube interview with the artist.
I am delighted that the Equine Eye Clinic in Wotton-Under-Edge bought the painting in a silent auction, for TomatoJack Arts in Berkeley, so contributors will be able to view the painting in the gallery there. 30% of the sale price was donated to the nominated charity, which is the Julian Trust Night Shelter in Bristol.

Now What?

I have learnt a great deal, the main thing being that most people appear to view life, and art, through a narrow lens of their own construction, and they rarely step outside it, even to the point of being frustrated and unhappy because of the confining set of rules they have unwittingly created for themselves.

I will be adding a series of short blog pieces here to cover in more depth what I have discovered from the project. There are also updates at https://www.facebook.com/arachnez

As well as an art project I would regard this as an interesting psycho-social experiment. Science collaborators, get in touch!

The finished artwork
The finished artwork