My Journey

I grew up in Cornwall, attending primary school in the 1970s where I particularly enjoyed arts and crafts. My parents were keen on the arts generally and my mother trained to teach infants and art at primary school. My father, an architect, designed a home for us three times, first in New Zealand, where I was born. Growing up, I was surrounded by creative projects. One of my earliest compelling memories was seeing a Rembrandt portrait, pointed out by my mother during a visit to the National Gallery.

I recall as a teenager being really excited about art, particularly during Foundation Course at Falmouth Art School. Following an academic pathway might have been wiser, as I did well at science and maths, but I felt a calling to become an artist.

I studied for degree in Fine Art in Cardiff. It was a time I remember as much for the threat of cuts to the arts from the Thatcher government and student strikes as for things creative.

I benefited from being taught by Slade trained Cherry Pickles in my third year. An added advantage was my being the sole student in the life room, which is where Cherry was assigned to teach. Quite happy with this arrangement, I would have carried on indefinitely given the choice! On graduating I had to focus on just making ends meet. I took various jobs, the worst of which was working for a scenery painting company cleaning paint out of buckets all day. For a while I was a prop maker at The Welsh National Opera, where among other things, I enjoyed learning to weld when a suit of armour was required. I tried to focus on my painting when I could.

About this time, I met my first husband, another artist, and we turned our hands to promoting and selling his work. My husband was originally from mainland China and painted beautiful watercolours and ink drawings. We framed the work ourselves and sold them on the art and craft fair circuit, including some of the prestigious flower shows although by that time I was mostly at home with our young son. Before our son was born, I had two long trips to China. I was the first Westerner to visit my husband’s village.

The marriage unravelled after about seven years. However, the experiences of travel in China, before it became more fully Westernized, and being part of Chinese family life and culture, meeting people from all walks of life, including other artists, and most especially having a son to raise, were all very precious.

While our divorce was going through, I moved into a flat with our son. When he was at school I painted in the kitchen where the light was good. There was also a small conservatory which made a handy little studio. I organised a loan with the Arts Council of Wales so I could buy materials. Around this time, I used a career development loan to enrol on an Alexander Technique teacher training course run by an organisation called the Interactive Teaching Method (ITM). The training course involved monthly weekends in Birmingham and was all very relaxed, so it was OK when my son, along with piles of Lego, pens and paper, Gameboy etc. needed to join me. I qualified as a teacher in 2003 and was very fortunate to teach the Alexander Technique to music students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama for seven years. By this time, my divorce had been finalised and my son and I were living back in the family house where I had space to teach the Alexander Technique and had a room I could use as a studio.

In 2007 my father died of Motor Neurone Disease which was a trauma for our family. After this, I didn’t feel any desire to paint so I put down my brushes.

About three years after my father died, I was in a coffee shop and saw an exhibition of paintings by Mary Traynor, a local artist. The paintings really jumped out at me as being authentic and alive and I suddenly realised I needed to pick up my brushes again. Later, I got to know Mary Traynor and we are still good friends today.

I had met my partner Gordon in 2003. He had completed an art foundation course and then studied graphic design at Bristol. His early career in the mid 80’s coincided with the first wave of computer graphics technology. Some of the TV title sequences he helped to create for BBC news and other daily programs were part of the look of that period. When I met him, he was working as freelance designer for software companies. The software makers were just discovering that they needed people with visual skills if they wanted to make successful products.

Gordon soon replaced my ancient floppy-disc PC with a second-hand Apple Mac. At that time I still photographed my work using 35mm slides but as digital cameras got better and cheaper, I was able to move to digital photography. I learned how to use a database to keep track of paintings and later, how to publish my work on a website. All these things together helped me present myself as a professional artist.

We married in 2019.

Around 2015, after 12 years of teaching the Alexander Technique I decided to focus on my painting full time rather than continue to run two businesses.

The study required to become a professional Alexander Teacher had certainly made an impression on me and I had decided my art practice would benefit from deeper thought as well.

There were aspects of painting I felt unsure about, and I this is when I began to read books and learn more about the components of painting through doing exercises that explored colour, tone and composition.

I came across the paintings of Alice Mumford online and visited two of her exhibitions at Badcocks Gallery in Newlyn. I loved Alice’s work, expressing as it does an intimate interaction with her environment in the still life tradition. When I discovered she taught at the St Ives School of Painting, I was really excited to attend. A successful application to the Arts Council of Wales for a grant helped cover some of the costs.

I also enjoyed a life painting course with Rose Hilton (mostly for meeting her!) plus two fascinating courses with colourist Hugo Grenville.

Books on the psychology of the creative process have also helped me. I had been introduced to “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron during my Alexander Technique training and I found following her weekly programme very helpful. The Alexander Technique also opened possibilities of genuinely being present in the moment in activity which is of vital importance to artists and practitioners generally.

I also read more on the British modern painters such as Winifred Nicholson, Ben Nicholson, and Christopher Wood. I visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge for the first time. William Nicholson’s work was also an inspiration. The French post impressionists, such as Matisse, Bonnard and Cezanne continued to inspire me as they had done for decades.

At art school during the eighties the emphasis was the post-modern. I didn’t find much meaning for myself within the post-modern tradition and I kept somewhat distant from mainstream contemporary art. I prefer to work from life, at least initially, and it has always made sense to me that a painting emerges from the artist’s visual, tactile and emotional experiences, tempered by memories and associations.

During the period of my divorce, I worked with a psychodynamic counsellor. An aspect of the therapeutic journey involved creating a safe environment to allow the emergence of the sense of self, to negotiate the resistance to that emergence and to support the self in connecting with the world. At the end of my therapeutic process, I gave my counsellor a painting of an apple half nestled in a bowl.

My sense now is that the dynamic we explored in therapy continues to this day in my painting practise.