I recently stayed at the home of my friend, Mary Liddell, for a week, while she and her family were abroad on holiday. Mary’s home is in the countryside near East Harptree in Somerset and she made her studio available to me. I saw the week as a chance for an artist’s retreat, with the bonus of much needed exercise walking Mary’s two dogs. (There were also three chickens that needed feeding, plus a feral cat!)
The first morning, I took the dogs out straight after breakfast. I’d already been for a walk the evening before and discovered a beautiful reservoir about a mile away and I returned there and went a bit further, finding a circular route.
Straight after returning, the dogs curled up in the kitchen and I headed to the studio in the garden. It was interesting beginning from scratch in a new space. How on earth was I going to start? I put up my easel, sorted out furniture and paints as necessary… by the end of the day, I felt that I’d made hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions.
Yellow Rudbekia and sunflowers were plentiful in Mary’s garden and I picked a bunch, adding a few pink/bluish sweet peas. Mary has an interesting collection of ceramics in her studio, so I was spoilt for a choice of what to put them in. I chose a grey buff coloured studio pottery jug.
What I found interesting about painting in an unfamiliar place was the solitude and relative peace. I noticed that I had no desire to listen to the radio or podcasts, as I wanted to enjoy the new sounds around me. I soon found myself getting used to the changing light in the studio and sounds of daily routine from the nearby dairy farm.
Going out walking twice a day with two Wheaton Terriers, I felt like I was part of a pack! There was the process of exploring a myriad of footpaths in wonderful countryside, while learning which fields of cows to avoid.
Likewise in the studio, I had the sense of seeking a pathway. I needed to find what was there for me, as an artist. I began exploring the windowsill as a motif. It caught the sun when it shone in the late afternoon, around the same time that I could hear the cows gathering in the milking shed.
On the day of the Queen’s funeral, the farmer paused his work in a nearby field for the hour of the service. The subsequent peace that descended reminded me of experiencing the solar eclipse in Cornwall. Even the birds seemed to stop singing. While the funeral unfolded with its many accents of gold, I studied a gold patterned jug in Mary’s studio.
It was an interesting and very rewarding week. I came home calmer (and fitter!) with paintings that remind me of my week of solitude.