Learning to trust the process & enjoy the journey…


I don’t want this post to be a wallowing ‘Woe is me’ post but feel I have to fill in some of the background details so the above title becomes clear….

I have really struggled since graduating from Loughborough University to find direction in my art. Although it was stressful, I thoroughly enjoyed creating Connecting Threads, my final piece based on the canals and cotton mills of the Midlands.

Connecting Threads
Connecting Threads

A large scale installation that included sound, I found it difficult, for varying reasons, to pursue this genre of art once I had graduated. I therefore reverted to a medium which was more practical – drawing and painting; I even managed to sell two or three pieces.

Bowed But Not Broken
Bowed But Not Broken

Still, I found it difficult to define my style, subject matter and medium – I dabbled with pencil, ink, charcoal and watercolour…..nonetheless I felt lost, going from tightly drawn figurative pieces such as Bowed But Not Broken to looser interpretations of the Lincolnshire landscape and the West Wales Coast…

Fenland Memories
Fenland Memories
Cei Bach
Cei Bach

No longer in the bubble of university I felt alone, rudderless, doubting that I  would ever achieve my dreams. It’s now I have to admit to spending a lot of time on social media, procrastinating…..And it’s there that I came across the work of the self-proclaimed ‘watercolour addict’ Jean Haines. I must admit I enjoy using watercolours although I have had no formal training, which could be viewed as a good thing! Whilst I appreciate the skill of the more formal watercolour artists, I was drawn to Jean’s work because she paints in a loose manner, letting the pigment and water work together to create pieces full of life, light and energy. Suffice to say I was hooked and became a bit of a ‘Jean Haines’ addict ( or should that read stalker, in the nicest possible way I hope), reading her blog watercolourswithlife.blogspot.co.uk,  her books, looking at her dvds, watching her demonstrate at the Patchings Art Festival…

The icing on the cake – attending one of Jean’s workshops – came this August; an early birthday present from my very supportive husband. What is immediately evident on meeting Jean is her sheer passion for watercolour! The day was filled with brilliant demonstrations, one to one sessions, and fun and laughter all the way! Jean is a very generous teacher, spending time making everyone feel special..










imageThe above sunflower piece still requires further work, but I came away inspired…

Jean advocates starting each of your painting sessions playing with pigment to produce three individual washes to help you learn how the colours mix (or not) and I have been endeavouring to follow her advice and teachings. (I would add here, that I take no credit for the methods and subject matter – they are all Jean’s and Jean’s alone.)

imageI have practised the following exercises from her books and dvds…and posted the results, good or bad, on Twitter and Facebook..


As I said earlier, Jean is a very generous lady, and even though she is super busy and very much in demand, she always finds time to comment on my efforts, giving encouragement and suggesting ways to improve.

Initially I struggled, but gradually I have become more confident, trusting myself more and, from just being pleased when I managed to produce ‘something’, I have found myself seeing areas for improvement, and more importantly, knowing what needs to be done….

I shall endeavour to chart my progress in subsequent posts but suffice to say I am learning to trust the process and …yes I am enjoying it!




Experimenting & Loosening Up…blog update

As someone who hardly lifted a paint brush during my time at uni, and even prior to that, wasn’t exactly known for painting, I have recently been spending my time attempting to get to grips with the medium. Even though it has a reputation for being difficult, I have chosen to work in watercolours – glutton and punishment spring to mind! I haven’t had any formal lessons in watercolour – I’m very much ‘going with the flow’! I’m sure watercolour purists would be horrified, and I’m probably breaking every rule in the book – but you know what they say about rules….

Using this medium, along with lots of water, has also provided me with an opportunity to ‘loosen up’ Sometimes I have a tendency to work ‘very tightly’, as in an earlier piece I did called ‘Bowed But Not Broken’ –

Bowed But Not BrokenI want my paintings to be more expressive, more about the paint and the marks – abstracted in a way, although still with a nod to the landscapes I love.

Initially I experimented in my sketchbook – the good old Seawhite!

imageimageimageimageI used Winsor & Newton Professional watercolours along with some Daniel Smith colours – both very good, worth paying that bit extra for! Eventually I could put it off no longer – I had to experiment on ‘proper’ paper! Although the saying is that a good workman should never blame his tools, I think this is definitely a case of ‘the better the paper, the better the result’! I therefore treated myself to a selection of watercolour papers from Jackson’s Art Supplies – highly recommended for their easy to use website and prompt service!

It’s been really interesting learning what the various papers can take! First off I tried Fabriano Artistico Extra White HOT press 140lb. Lovely smooth paper, the paint, along with a fair bit of water moved beautifully over the surface. Here, I should admit to not stretching the paper beforehand…I know, I know – rules… As well as using paint brushes, and here I’m admitting to a bit of hero-worshipping – I use Jean Haines Watercolour brushes (again, worth every penny!) I also use sticks, wooden coffee stirrers & old/unwanted plastic store cards. On this paper I was able to swirl and push the paint around very easily without damaging the surface.

imageimageAlthough the paper withstood quite a lot of water, it did buckle a little – perhaps a reminder to stretch it prior to use. However, I see they do the same paper in 300lb so I might order some of that next!

Next I tried the Bockingford NOT 250lb paper – an altogether different surface! This paper withstood a LOT of water but I found I couldn’t use the plastic card to move the paint around so much as I damaged the slightly rougher texture of the surface. Instead I used my brush along with a wooden stirrer (used very lightly) as well as tilting and turning the paper to create runs.

imageimageimageI was impressed with both papers and would be hard pressed to choose a favourite! Not so my choice of colours, I seem to have a thing for Payne’s Grey, Indigo, Raw Umber and Yellow Ochre – reminding me as they do of the North Norfolk coast in winter, and the autumnal fenland fields of my childhood.

I have yet to try the Arches Aquarelle 400lb sheet or the Two Rivers 300lb – mainly due to my lack of confidence in my ability and the cost… When I do pluck up the courage I will let you know how I get on!


Pleased to announce…blog update

I am pleased to announce that I will be participating in the ‘Inspired by Nature’ exhibition at Blue Owl Art, Grantham, Lincolnshire. Running from 30 April – 31 August, the exhibition is for work that has been, like it says in the title, inspired by nature!

Fragile Lands II will be exhibiting a new body of work, which I have called ‘Fragile Lands’: it consists of eight pieces inspired by my love and affinity for the landscape – The Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Moors, the North Norfolk coast and beyond….

Fragile Lands IIGrowing up in rural Lincolnshire I came to love and respect the landscape in all its many guises, whatever the season.  As a child, time seemed to stretch on forever, and although the countryside altered with the farming calendar, the bones of the landscape appeared infinite. Fast forward to the present and we are aware, more than ever, of the earth’s fragility. The mixed media work I will be exhibiting looks to capture this juxtaposition of permanence and vulnerability: the contour lines of the landscape contrasting with the delicacy of the tissue paper and soft ink and watercolour washes.

Fragile Lands IIIThe work is intended to be impressionistic, abstract even, rather than representational: it is my response to the landscapes I love and the issues it faces.

Fragile Lands IVFragile Lands VI am thrilled to be exhibiting at Blue Owl Art again – it’s a great gallery, has a great selection of contemporary craftwork as well, along with an on-site cafe serving delicious food – what more could you want?!

Fragile Lands VIThe Preview Night is 30 April from 7 – 9pm – do pop along if you can, would be great to see you there!!

Fragile Lands VIIFragile Lands VIII

Catch 22?…blog update

Readers of my last post will be aware that I am developing some new work based on my love of the landscape – the contrast between the apparent permance of it and it’s fragility particularly appeals to me. Inspiration comes from the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and the North Norfolk coast – these areas are very special to me, I always feel ‘home’ when I’m there. I also love words, and for this new work I was also inpired by an extract from Robbie Burns’s ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ beginning ‘But pleasures are like poppies spread..’ (see previous post if you want to read the extract).

imageimageAnother poet was brought to my attention (again via Countryfile) – Simon Armitage; in particular his Stanza Stones poems which have been carved into rocks around a trail from Marsden to Ilkley. Not being sure about the laws of copyright (with regards to living poets) I am not reproducing the poems here but if you check out the websites you can read them. Armitage’s observations about the landscape and weather are magical, evoking a real sense of place.

So, suitably inspired, I have carried on developing and experimenting!

imageimageExperiment with different coloured tissue paper below – reserving judgement at the moment!

imageimageSome pieces I’m happy with and others I’m not so sure, so experimenting with cropping them.


imageI do feel as if I am putting together a body of work –

imageand therein lies the rub! To be able to show potential galleries/sell them, the works need professionally mounting and framing (when will I learn to make my work a standard size!) but how do I afford that without selling some…..Catch 22! Any tips from you guys would be greatly appreciated!

Meanwhile, on with the work…..


Developing Inspiration?…blog update

Although social media comes in for a fair amount of criticism (and in some cases I feel it is entirely justified!) there is a positive side to it as well. Without it I wouldn’t have discovered all the amazing artists that I have, picked up lots of tips from artists who generously share their techniques, methods and general advice for us mere mortals trying to find our way, or learn about so many opportunites and exhibitions. It was only through social media that I learnt about the International Postcard Exhibition at the Surface Gallery, Nottingham. I submitted three ‘postcards’ for display

Carolyn J Robertsimageand whilst they might not win any awards or even sell, being part of an exhibition all helps with making connections and getting your name ‘out there’.

It was also on social media that I spotted an invite to contribute to an installation – part of the ‘Drop Me A Line’ exhibition by Michael Fairfax and Louise Baker at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon. Having seen examples, again on Twitter, as well as having a ‘bit of a thing for lines’ as anyone who was at uni with me will testify, I thought I would submit some work. My sketches of the Peak District and of the ‘cliffs’ along the Norfolk coast concentrating on the ‘anti-clines’ were my inspiration!

imageCarolyn J Roberts




Carolyn J Robertsimage




And here are the ones I submitted –

imageimageimageimageI like the strength of the line in the landscape – whilst also acknowledging the transient nature of the world around us. I had been playing around with this idea for a while, but felt like I needed more inspiration as I wasn’t totally sure about the direction I was going until, luck would have it, I watched ‘Countryfile’ on Sunday night, all about the bard of Scotland, Robbie Burns. It was the piece involving landscape photographer Colin Prior and his quote from Burns’ poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’ –

‘But pleasures are like poppies, spread,

You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed;

Or like the snow falls in the river,

A moment white – then melts forever,

Or like the borealis race,

That flit ere you can point their place,

Or like the rainbow’s lovely form,

Evanishing amid the storm,

Nae man can tether time or tide’


that really captured, in words, what I was trying to portray.

So, suitably inspired, I am now trying to develop these pieces further –

imageimageimageSo far I have used Bockingford Paper, indian ink and watercolour pencil in an attempt to show the contour lines and anticlines, but with the addition of tissue paper and washes to portray the transient nature of the landscape. I can see these developing into larger pieces….

Might even submit these to Blue Owl Art, Grantham, for their ‘Inpired by Nature’ exhibition – 30 April-31 August 2015 -will see how they evolve…



Exhibitions, exhibitions…blog update

Been a while since my last post what with Christmas and family illness, something had to give… Anyway, new year, new post and after a lean period as far as art is concerned, I have been attended launch parties for two exhibitions in as many days – you know that saying about buses…

Last night I went to the International Postcard Show 2015 at Surface Gallery, Nottingham. I had submitted three pieces of work –Carolyn J Robertsso went along to the opening night to see them in situ, as well as all the other ‘postcards’!

imageThe exhibition comprises of just over 300 pieces of original postcard sized art works by local, national and international artists. Categories included painting, drawing, digital works, graphic design and illustration, along with photography, craft, collage and pattern design.

Here’s a list of all the artists –

imageand here are some of my pictures of the work and event!

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageAs you can see there is a range of work on display – and for sale! Any postcard marked with a green dot is for sale at the very affordable price of £15! Pop along to Surface Gallery to see all the work and perhaps snap up an original piece of art at a bargain price!

Thursday evening saw me at Blue Owl Art, based at Grantham Tennis Club, Grantham, Lincolnshire for their exhibition – Photography: Art & Grantham In Focus Competition. Photography: Art exhibited work by Adrian Fretwell, Belinda Thomas, Janine Kilroe, Kayne Clarke, Stuart MacFarlane and Zebadak Heda (if I’ve left anyone out or not included a link I apologise..) The work on show explores hand-coloured images, sport, landscape and abstract photography. Here are some of my photos – apologies for the shadows etc…You need to pop along to the gallery to see the work at its best!


imageimageimageimageAnd my personal favourite is this one by Zabadak Heda – (no, I’m not just saying that G!)

imageIn tandem with this exhibition, the gallery also featured the Grantham In Focus Competition – all work submitted had to be taken within a 5 mile radius of Grantham, and a Tennis Category.

imageAs I said, apologies for the quality of my photos – still getting to grips with my ipad………

Well that’s a quick round up – now back to filling in submission forms – how I detest filling in the blurb bit about myself – might have a spot of lunch – I think that’s called procrastinating………….

Walking backwards, moving forwards…blog update

I have always loved reading: as a child I was a voracious reader, thinking nothing of reading a book from cover to cover in one go (kept me quiet for hours!) This love has stayed with me; there’s nothing quite like opening a book for the first time to discover the delights within! I will probably have two books on the go – one quite ‘deep’, whilst the other will be somewhat ‘lighter’ in nature – my mood determining which I read!

At present, I am reading just the one – Robert MacFarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’.

The Old WaysIn his book MacFarlane combines walking and the landscape, with history and discovery, all told in such descriptive language that I am loathe to put the book down! Following paths, tracks – holloways made by man or weather – he investigates the landscape, learns the stories of our ancestors and meets the people who walk these paths, who have such a connection to the landscape that they are not just in the landscape but part of it.

MacFarlane describes his travels in a poetic, lyrical way, reminiscent of the rhythm of walking, and the language and terminology he employs is a joy in itself. His use of local dialect words, be they Gaelic or Arabic, adds another layer to the book -and I find it particularly interesting when he explains the derivation of some of our common English words (book being a case in point!)

I too, love the landscape (and history and words….), and although I cannot profess to be as seasoned a walker as MacFarlane, i do like to go for a wander now and then – and yes, walking does help me think, to meditate…

Following paths and trails, I find myself focussing on the ‘lines’ of the landscape (MacFarlane does reference Tim Ingold’s book ‘A Brief History of Lines’ – a source of inspiration for my Connecting Threads!); in particular the ‘anticlines’ – geologically, an axis or line from which strata slope or dip down in opposite directions.

Quick sketches whilst out walking have become the possible basis for a new body of work; I have been playing around with ideas whilst trying out some samples of Stillman and Birn paper from Jackson Art Supplies. (I also tried Jackson’s Handmade at Two Rivers watercolour paper – fabulous!)

Drawing boardIt’s these lines and anticlines that interest me, the strata that provide a history of the landscape. I have an idea in my head of how I want these works to look – now I just have to experiment and see if I can achieve it!

Talking of words, I came across a fabulous one the other day – obambulate – meaning to ‘walk about’ or ‘wander aimlessly’ – I have been known to do quite a lot of that in my time!