My First Sale

Anenomes (40x60 cms)- my first sale

Anenomes (40x60 cms)- my first sale

The first piece of work I sold - in 2011 - was very unexpected. I had exhibited it very reluctantly at an end-of-year show at Seawhite’s Studio in Sussex. The large piece of paper was unframed, unmounted and very grubby. Futhermore, I’d done the charcoal drawing of anemones (seen right) with my foot, as I’d had tennis elbow.

I phoned the buyer to arrange delivery and she asked me to bring it to her so that I could see where she was going to hang it. On the phone she sounded quite intimidating but I was intrigued to meet her. As she opened the door to her characterful cottage, I immediately realised that she was a collector. Every wall was covered in pictures. I recognised a Gwen John and in other rooms, Alexander Calder and John Bellamy. Even the bathroom had beautiful pictures. She was an older lady who had remained single, had no children and had run her own very successful business. 

She showed me where she was going to hang my work – on the wall up the side of the narrow stairs - and said she hoped I didn’t mind it going there. It was going to hang beside a freekin’ Elizabeth Frink. Mind? My mind was blown! When she went to pay me, she said she wanted to talk to me about the price. I balked. I had wanted to give it to her as it was so badly presented (even though I'd taken an eraser to the grubby marks) and I couldn’t believe anyone would want to buy it, but my son had suggested I ask for £50 as she would value it more. At the mention of price, she looked at me sternly. Then she gave me a little lecture about pricing work and the value of original art. I wish I could have taped her. She gave me £100. My first sale.

As we spoke that afternoon - me still slightly intimidated and she a sort of lovely bossy boots - lots of lessons were learnt. She later emailed to say if I ever had an exhibition she would lend me the piece of work she had bought. I rolled my eyes at the idea of having an exhibition as I was working flat-out, full-time, teaching English in a boarding school so there was little or no time to be creative.  Nevertheless the coalescence of the arrival of her email and of hearing the news that another very good friend - who was also in teaching - was terminally ill, had an impact and made me decide to retire at the end of the next academic year. 

Just before I did, I did some drawings in sketchbooks - seen below. They were drawings of what was on my table, made at the end of busy working days. I was lucky enough to be asked to show them in an Open House in Brighton - my first time exhibiting.



Cold peaches at breakfast

Cold peaches at breakfast


I emailed my inspiring buyer to ask her to come to the Private View. She didn’t reply. I later discovered that she had died.  I was so sad that she never knew that the little bit of time that our paths had crossed had had such a big influence on me. Another lesson learnt.


Words and titles

Beautiful words are like little gems glinting in our imaginations. When I'm reading, I jot down in a notebook, words or phrases which particularly glow from the page, and I now have filled a few of these little books. They are usually Moleskines and I like to cover them with different papers.


I write with the finest of nibs in black, brown, orange, purple or pink ink, but never blue - I'm not sure why this is. Maybe I've seen too much blue ink when marking essays when I was teaching English. I turn my notebook to orientate the quotations in different ways on the page so that at a later date when I read them, I have to turn the book round in my hands and each quotation gets my individual attention. Sometimes I add an illustration or doodle. There often dried flower heads nestled between the pages.

Reading back over the words at a later date is heart-lifting and can inspire the titles of my paintings. Some of these titles are in the image below. I mull over words which appeal to me and arrange and rearrange them on a page - always handwritten - and eventually they fall into a pattern I like, much like mixing paint and colours till they feel right. I particularly like words about landscape and weather, favouring the images associated with winter weather.I also like words to do with home.


Writing these titles takes time but I revel in creating them and enjoy the process as much as I enjoy creating the paintings. Words, to me are like tiny paintings which stir my emotions and delve deep inside me, resonating with fluid memories of place and experience.

I really like the words below, written by George Eliot in 'Middlemarch' about having 'keen vision' and heightened senses. Imagine if it could be as good as that - hearing the grass grow! How magical. The magic of looking and listening to that 'roar on the other side of silence.' Chosing words with care is an attempt to go a little way towards the other side of silence.




making drawings

A section of the collaged drawing on the second piece of paper 

A section of the collaged drawing on the second piece of paper 

These works started out in Seawhite’s Studio in West Sussex, on a very large piece of Fabriano paper - about 10 feet by 6 feet – which was attached vertically to a wall. I made marks, limiting myself to using beautifully sharpened pencils, really concentrating on the feel of the pencil on the paper and the nature of the marks I was making. It was a deliberately slow, thoughtful process. After several days the paper was covered and I then tore it carefully into pieces and collaged these on to a new, large piece of paper.



I had no preconceived ideas when I started my mark making (apart from to use only pencils), working intuitively, and it was only towards the end of covering the first piece of paper that I started to think about woodlands, wildernesses, the awakening of primeval landscapes, and the seethe of life that exists in these places. As I collaged the torn pieces, images started to emerge and I followed the lines and shapes of the marks to lead me towards more recognisable images, which I then layered with oil bars, very aged newspapers and even lichen. In the final stage, after tearing the second piece of large paper in a deliberate way, I made a series of individual pieces of work.


What to put in the spaces between the trees, on the second large piece of paper, became a preoccupation as I thought about the moving air and what floated and drifted in it: particles of leaf and bark, teeny bits of feather, a fraction of a leaf skeleton, the tiniest shavings of stone, weeny shards of snail shell, snips of leaf veins, desiccated petals, empty seed husks light as a ladybird’s wing – a flummery of teeny, weeny pieces floating, whirling, pirouetting, drifting ascending, swept across warm air speckled with pinheads of pollen. A curdle of little histories, end notes of seasons, faded papery swansongs. Just as in the wilderness, ideas floated and pirouetted in my mind, tumbling, drifting, settling on the page.

Big drawing with some spaces filled in

Big drawing with some spaces filled in

How my little landscape paintings came into being


These little paintings emerged after drawing for 20 minutes a day in a sketchbook to see what would emerge from my sub-conscious – an exercise encouraged by Andrez Jackowski. He advocates this as a way ‘to access the unconscious’ and ‘to tap into patterns of underlying thinking.’ He assured those of us in his class that ‘images would be waiting’ – and he was right. After a few sessions of just fiddling around, I found myself using oil bars to juxtapose and layer colour, eventually recognising that the colours were those of the landscape where I grew up in Northern Ireland looking out to the Sperrin mountains – teals, mosses, burnt sepias, slates, mauves.

These initial sketchbook experiments grew to encompass memories of the farmhouse where I grew up. At first I didn’t realise what the little white houses with no doors, which crept in to my work were, but they were compelling. It was after I had done several of these and instinctively could not put a door into the houses (when I put them in, they immediately felt wrong and I had to remove them), that I realised that they represented the house were I had grown up and which was still in the family, but empty, as my father who had lived there for 54 years had recently died.

These paintings became repositories for  a tangle of memories of my childhood in Northern Ireland. From my sub-conscious I dragged into being, the smell of frost under star-spangled, dark inky skies, damp grasses, spongy mosses, and the noise of mating frogs from the lint-hole next to our mill house, where flax had been grown to be made into linen. I was further inspired when reading the poetry of Seamus Heaney who lived locally and whose words never fail to plumb deep into the well of my sub-conscious. He recommended that you should ‘trust the feel of what rubbed treasure your hands have known’ and that is what I have tried to do here.