St I R&R

After the frenetic pace of work in the previous few weeks, July arrived with a sigh of relief because that meant it was time for our week’s rest and relaxation down in St Ives. The seven hour drive was pretty relentless but arriving on Saturday evening to our fabulous apartment with spectacular views across St Ives’ best beach made it all worth it. My son and I got straight into our swimmers and had an evening dip!

We were staying in a fantastic split level studio apartment in an iconic 1960s building. Designed by architect Henry Gilbert, the Piazza-Barnaloft apartment block won an architectural prize for its modern design which was awarded by Arthur Ling who had been the Chief Planning Officer for London until 1955. Ling had evidently liked the building so much he bought one of the flats, and here we were half a century later staying in that same flat, thanks to his daughter who is a friend of my mother.

Our bedroom balcony had views across the rooftops of St Ives and the main balcony overlooked Porthmeor Beach, a beautiful sandy beach with good waves for the body builders and surfers. I took photos all week from the balcony of the changing weather and changing tides.

We were a few minutes’ walk from Tate St Ives with its magical Patrick Heron windows in the foyer. Up the steps and down the hill towards the seafront, was the Barbara Hepworth Museum which was based in the house and studio that she occupied for the last twenty five years years of her life and it was just how I remember it from my last visit almost two decades ago.

This time, there was a touch of pathos about seeing Barbara’s sculpture Two Forms (Divided Circle) which was her equivalent of the artist’s proof; she had made six versions, one of which had been standing in my local park for the past 35 year until it was recently stolen for scrap metal.

I loved the Hepworth Museum, originally known as Trewyn Studios, with its various connnected outbuildings where the stone was carved and its garden where the finished sculptures were displayed just as they had been while she lived there. Visiting the Leach Pottery another day I was struck again by how fine the line is between live and work for artists doing both in the same building. Bernard Leach installed a kiln in the pottery in 1923 which lasted longer than Leach’s three marriages! The kiln wasn’t replaced until after the end of his potting days in 1975. This was the same year Barbara Hepworth died in an accidental fire caused as a result of her nightly habit of a cigarette in bed, in the same room in which she started off stone carving her monumental sculptures.

We listened to an excellent local guide talking about Hepworth and bringing a more personal take to her story. He explained how she had walked past the tall walls of Trewyn Studios for ten years on the way back from doing her shopping, never knowing what was behind them; it wasn’t until the building came up for sale that she realised how perfect it was as a space in which to live and work. This aspect of the story particularly spoke to me as I am currently in the process of looking for a house and studio – I’ve looked for three months now and there are very few places that would work….if only there were a Trewyn Studio in London for me!


A Break in the Weather

I spent a wonderful day yesterday with a drawing group in a beautiful garden and nursery near Lewes. We were planning on sketching outside all day and despite overnight rain, the morning light on the drive down was very promising. By the time I arrived, the gardens were bathed in a gorgeous autumnal light and we were rather pleased with ourselves for having chosen the perfect day for it.

Marchants Nursery and Garden in Laughton, East Sussex, is one of the leading small nurseries in the country attached to a beautifully kept garden with stunning views of the South Downs. Owned by Lucy Goffin – one of the ladies in the drawing group – and her husband Graham Gough, the garden at Marchants was the perfect spot to sketch and paint.

At every turn there were plants and flowers, creating a maze like walk through the centre of the gardens, paths lined with planting and a general movement down the garden leading visitors towards a large pond at the end of the plot. Everything was well kept without being fussy, and you could tell that this was a garden created with love. Further up towards the house, one got a longer vista across the gardens and beyond. After a morning’s work we came back together inside. As if by magic, another fantastic spread was created from dishes brought by various members of the group and we had our post lunch cups of tea from the balcony outside the lovely first floor studio.

Of course with eight creative women involved, lunch and a cup of tea is no quick affair! Those of us who hadn’t seen Lucy’s studio were curious, and Lucy obliged by inviting us in to see the studio and her work. She is a textile artist and she draws greatly on the nature surrounding her, with plants from her garden often being depicted in her textiles designs. It was all so inspiring, let alone the incredible views across the South Downs from her balcony. But alas the afternoon felt as though it was already half gone, before we got back to work, and far too soon I had to jump back in the car to make my way back to London for an evening lecture. And so I left Marchants at about 4 o’clock, marvelling that I had spent an entire October day in lovely autumnal sunshine in barely more than a thin jacket.

And then the heavens opened! The two photographs above were taken 20 minutes apart! I had left myself enough time to get back on a good day, but I’d forgotten the Friday afternoon traffic and I certainly had not counted on such appalling weather conditions that the A22 was literally turned into a river. That, plus the typical English signposting which sent me twice around a standstill traffic jam on the East Grinstead ringroad before I realised I would have to retrace my steps back. After two hours in the car, I had gone only 35 miles of my journey and had practically given up on getting back in time for the lecture which was to start in 45 minutes.

But driving through Sevenoaks I had an inspired moment! I parked in the station car park, jumped on the first train to London Bridge (which thankfully turned out to be the fast train), had a couple of crowded tube rides in London rush hour and then sprinted from Holborn tube to make it just in time to Queen Square to grab a glass of wine and a seat for the lecture.

And I am so glad I made the effort, as the lecture was superb. Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe spoke with verve and passion about one of my all time stained glass favourites, Harry Clarke. He was a remarkable Arts and Crafts artist working in Dublin from about 1910. He produced book illustrations and taught graphics at the Dublin School of Art, but it is his idiosyncratic stained glass for which he is remembered best. He was prolific and produced an unbelievable number of outstanding works during his relatively short career which was cut short by his early death in 1931 from – what sounded like – over work.

After the lecture, we were so excited to have the opportunity to look closely at a Harry Clarke glass panel, which demonstrated his unbelievable, almost microscopic, painting technique. There is always more to find in Harry Clarke’s work – little faces, small details, tiny inscriptions and his almost hidden signature. I think his work is also strangely timeless – it has an Arts and Crafts sensibility but it looks like it could have been created by a modern master. Even better, I love that his work also often looks like it could have been painted by a woman – it has such a feminine aesthetic and the decorative detail is mindblowing. But, as we found out, he also had a taste for sauciness in some of his pieces and the good citizens of Dublin were affronted on more than one occasion by his depictions in glass.

We stayed for a meal at the Art Workers’ Guild and I was delighted to spot an Angie Lewin print on the walls – someone else whose work has lovely decorative detail and is also an old friend from my Central Saint Martins days. We were chatting away and ended up being the last people out of the building. On my way back to the tube I remembered with a sinking heart that I’d have to train it back out to Sevenoaks before making the long midnight drive back home.


Garden of Delights

Yesterday I spent a nightmare three hour journey driving down to Surrey – getting lost, missing my turns in all the road rebuilding, and getting caught on big roads going in completely the wrong direction. My route was so convoluted, I actually manged to cover four different counties and I almost made it to the south coast!

So after all the frustration of a hot, sticky journey which was about twice as long as it needed to be, it was heavenly to finally reach my destination, the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden. Tucked away in a quiet pocket of Surrey, this is a lush oasis of a garden with plenty of peaceful, shady spots to sit and take in the scenery. Dotted about the ten acres of landscaped garden are a changing collection of  contemporary sculptures.

I was there to meet a group of like-minded artists and garden designers and spend a day drawing and sketching. Organised by landscape designer Annie Guilfoyle, the day was a perfect opportunity to connect with other creatives and it was wonderful to get back into drawing, something of which I don’t do enough.

We had the entire garden to ourselves and Hannah herself came out intermittently to admire the work going on and give the odd word of advice. An impromptu picnic for lunch turned into a veritable feast as each member of the group unpacked more and more food, but the bonhomie over lunch was a good social recharging before the quiet calm of the afternoon sketching session.


The garden truly was the perfect setting for a perfect day…. right up to the miserable prospect of the long drive home.