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ANN’S BLOG


  • The magic apple tree

    Overnight the apple tree seems to have bloomed with a froth of wintry frozen blossom.  Clusters and clots of white snow cling to each frail twig. A blackbird hops among these crystalline bouquets hoping to find  frosted fruit. Earlier the sun was a mere pale milky glimmer in a sullen sky but as the day lowers itself into the evening it begins to gleam in a last bid for attention. A sharp light, brittle and bright pinpoints itself into laser beams, picking out individual glittering snowflakes in the snow flowers of the snow tree.  The cold cumulus flowers are edged with light as this low sun caresses the whimsical chimerical shimmering shapes. Underneath each sugary clump the melting has begun and slow trickling drips have formed tiny icicles in a myriad silky glass blown shapes of the strangest beasts and wild imaginings.  The sun notices these icy confections and concentrates its alchemy into each misshapen glassy bauble, so that each one sparkles with  nuggets of a priceless gold . I am lost in the magic apple tree, drawn into this other world. I watch the frosty whites turn to blue shadow as the sun fades away and the snow blossom transforms into the dark silhouettes of the strangest fruits. It is too cold for the bats to fly from the watching steeple and the circling rooks have gathered in the safety of the wood.  It is just I that  sees the apple tree disappear into the  silent blackbird night.

     

     

     

  • Facebook and feedback

    I have been on my own in my studio  doing lots of painting for several weeks now. I don’t know about you but I find it hard  working in a kind of vacuum,  painting  away but not having any feedback. I do ask my husband sometimes for his opinion ( when I’m desperate!)   but he is not in the least arty so if he approves (or not) I am still in the dark as to the merit of my work (or not!). The strange thing  is that I think I am actually rather good at looking at other people’s paintings and knowing instantly and instinctively  their strengths and weaknesses. When I teach at  workshops it is easy for  me to  watch a student’s painting develop  and advise about what to add, take away or when I think that they  should stop.

    I find Facebook  very good in times of self doubt. You can post a picture and instantly have lots of positive reaction which is a lovely boost to the confidence. If you feel on your own with your painting or any other form of art social media  could be a really useful form of communicating with other like minded people- everywhere! I have noticed that  people only seem to leave positive  feedback and I mean in general, not just with regard to my posts. It would be dangerous to suggest that  it might be more useful if people  sometimes offered constructive criticism because not everybody is nice ( or so I have heard)  and we are all so very vulnerable. Nasty negative comments have the potential to shatter one’s confidence and  so it is probably easier to play safe and  just pay compliments.

    On my workshops  I  sincerely find there is always something good to say about every piece.( Although it has to be said that sometimes it is harder than others!) I usually try to suggest ways in which the artwork or a follow up interpretation of it could be improved.  On one occasion a student once asked me to stop my pleasant comments and really give a  full on serious critique- warts and all. I  began tentatively suggesting that perhaps the composition  could be improved upon  and she was immediately upset as  she had thought that was the best bit!  Being a teacher is  a minefield especially when you have large feet and are not a trained psychologist!

    On the subject of workshops- I  had promised myself not to tell you again  until next year the fact that I have a new book coming  out on March 1st called Ann Blockley’s Watercolour Workshop’.  And so I won’t mention it , or maybe I will ,but only quietly, because I’m excited about it and I haven’t got anyone else to confide in….!

    If you would like to  join me  on Facebook  my page is Ann Blockley Artist  and I am also there as Ann Blockley.

     

    Blackberry and sloe hedgerow- unfinished(?)

     

     

     

  • Next year’s events

    I have just updated my website Events page with lots of exciting happenings for 2018. These are just some of the activities and events planned- there is more to come later in the year-so keep watching this space!

    I am off to the woods tomorrow  to participate in a woodland project with the Arborealists- and the sun is  promising to shine. Really looking forward to doing some Autumnal drawing and poetry.

     

  • Autumn creativity

     

     

    I have gone into mad mode. I call it that but really it’s a kind of creative whirlwind! This time of year always sends me into a frenzy of activity and my studio is chaotic. Vivid paintings, half- finished works,  experiments, scraps of colour, unresolved compositions, potential  mixed media scraps-  These pieces are piled on the floor of my studio – a colourful carpet of paper. They are like Autumn leaves and I can almost envisage them floating through the air, somersaulting and  whirling around my studio. I feel like tossing handfuls of them into the air and seeing the patterns that they make as they fall!

    Many of my recent works are inspired by this very subject- the autumn leaves that create incredible  patchwork patterns in the trees and hedgerows, threaded through with bead like berries.  I have also been dabbling with watercolours that veer into the textile world using stitches and patching pieces together  to echo the tapestries of the  hedge.    Different surfaces, collage, printmaking, pouring liquid colours. I am loving it all. It sounds a bit random but actually they are all linked by the rich and magical theme of nature and its organic textures and shapes.

    Writing has become part of my explorations and I announced my tottering tiny steps into the world of poetry in my last blog- Thank you so much to those of you who sent me such lovely encouraging messages!   I will keep at it and will post another of my efforts soon- if I can only find a pencil and paper amongst all this Autumnal creative chaos!

                 Detail-‘ Sloe shadows in the hedge’

     

            Detail ‘A blustery day in the hedge’

  • New Book

    I have been told by my publisher that I can start talking about my new book! But not too much-  publication date is still  four and half months away but the time will race past and I am now on a count down to March 1st 2018!  It feels like I have been working on this for ever. It is a year since  a photographer visited my studio  and took  shots of my paintings as I developed them . I had decided that it was time for me to do a  more ‘hands on’ book.  I then had to sort through about a thousand photographs  choosing the ones that best illustrated the points that I was  making and whittle them down to a usable number. Once these were allocated I had lots more painting to get done and of course all the writing to explain everything, making sure it is informative but still reads in an entertaining way and provides inspiration.

    One of the aspects I enjoy about  developing a book is the layout and design process. I always get heavily involved  in this . I have a feeling I may have a  bit of a reputation  for being rather picky and difficult about the tiniest detail but it’s only because I am passionate about getting it ‘right’. It’s a bit like composing a painting- you know instinctively when something hangs together well.  So hours, days and weeks were spent over fonts, word counts and juxtapositions of images. The next stage was the exciting bit , when a large packet of colour proofs came through for my comments and  corrections.  It never stops being  a thrill to see your  pictures in print. Viewing the pages on a computer screen just isn’t the same. The next adrenalin packed installment was when I returned the corrected package to the publisher and it got ‘lost’ in the post!  Luckily, Royal Mail discovered where they had sent it to by mistake and  my baby was  returned into the arms of the publishers.

    The final piece of the jigsaw was choosing an image for the cover  and here it is! It is called Ann Blockley’s Watercolour Workshop, to be published by Batsford on March 1st 2018.  I will be posting more information each month about this new book and what you can expect from it. So excited!!

     

    ‘Ann Blockley’s Watercolour Workshop’ will be published on March 1st 2018

     

     

  • Written in Stone

    I find painting difficult. I always have done. It sometimes feels like drawing blood from a stone. I often feel that I could write a book about artist’s block- My name even has a ‘Block’ in it! However, I have realised that my problem is not stifled creativity – it is a surfeit of ideas! I am always so brimming with thoughts that sometimes I get confused about which way to turn.  Ever searching- earlier this year I decided to explore a completely different  avenue –something I have always been drawn  to but not had the confidence to try. Poetry.   I went on a day ‘s workshop at a local college feeling slightly foolish and fearful. Poetry scares me.

    There were six of us and the tutor suggested that we begin by sitting in a circle to meditate and focus on what images came to mind about how we felt.  My heart immediately sank. What was I supposed to be feeling?  What kind of images did he mean?  Why had there been no tutorial before we began? At least we did not have to sit cross legged and hum.  I was clearly out of my depth and my cynicism was at full   pelt. Everyone had to recall what they had been thinking and we took turns to tell.  When it came to me I confessed that I did not really know what I was supposed to be saying or what was appropriate. In desperation I conjured up the idea that I had been lost in a  wood and had reached a clearing where a golden beehive stood.  I waited for the tutor’s comments.

    ‘Why did I feel that I was ‘supposed ‘ to be doing something specific? ‘……..At these words my internal  light bulb   switched on!   I realised straight away that I did not have to try and please anyone, that nobody could tell me what to do or think. There are no rules- we just search inside ourselves to find a way forward.

    And my image?  The wood was a metaphor for my uncertainty about which way to turn but the bee hive was my inner knowledge of being a  sweet treasure trove of industry- full of creativity.   ‘I love that idea’ , I said ,’but I  am a fraud because that image only came from having painted something similar last week’. ‘ But out of all the many thoughts that were possible’,he replied, ’ the beehive in the wood is the one that surfaced at this particular moment.’   SOLD.

    Having spent the morning inside (with no poetry to report yet)  we were sent on another exercise outdoors ‘to see what we were drawn to in nature and write about it  if we wanted to.’  I was relieved to be in the fresh air and wandered past a few daffodils , wondering whether these were going to show any  magnetic signs of  luring me in. Nothing so far. I meandered a bit further and spotted a magnolia tree in bud. Something made me move towards it. I could hear the murmur of some water- an underground  spring perhaps, as I could not see it.  Birds sang as I approached the tree and saw that a large, pointed stone was dangling from one of its branches. I found myself reaching for my notebook.  scribbling down words as fast as they poured out.  I wrote  the last two verses later, after I had returned to photograph the scene. I  had approached it from a different path and was astonished to see that the other side of the stone was actually a colourful mirrored mosaic.   The metaphors and meanings woven inside  the  words suddenly seemed enriched and I discovered  layers of thought that I had not even been aware of:

     

    Written in stone

    Stone

    Suspended from string

    Turning, twisting

    Swinging to and fro

    Pondering, testing the air

    Feeling the energy

    Divining which way to go

     

    String

    Tied to magnolia bough

    blotched branches twist

    With buds expectant

    Pointing. Sensing the air

    Gauging the temperature

    Wondering if the time is now.

     

    Spring

     Gossiping and bickering

    A running commentary

     with harts tongue fern

    A source unseen

    A scene unsourced.

    Babble to be ignored.

     Listen to birdsong

     

    Stone

    Suspended from  string

    By the spring

    Under the magnolia  tree

    Stirring. Gently moves.

    Spins and swings towards me

    But shyly turns away.

    If I wait it will turn again.

    Another day

     

    Later

     Drawn to the  pencil line

     of string  holding

     taut this hanging thing 

    I approach in a different way

    Out of the shifting shadows

    Into a sunlit part of the play

     

    And see

    the other side of the rock

    Contains images of me!

    Not written in stone

     but   in multi coloured glass

    shining  shattered shards

    fragments of pain  and glory

     but also I  reflect-

    windows to a different  story.

     

    I could not believe what I had done and reported back with sheepish glee to the other students who were now back in the circle.  They encouraged me to stand and read my first poem and they  applauded when I finished.  It was a huge moment that I won’t forget.  

    I published my first  painting book when I was  just beginning to learn how to paint- the cheek of it!  So I thought- why not share my poems or creative writing whilst I learn this too? (It has taken me six months to pluck up courage after my initial bravado at the workshop)! I would love to hear from you  if you have any  constructive criticism  or tips at: ann@annblockley.com  Thanks!

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  • Autumn delights

    Hurrah- Autumn starts tomorrow!  I have enjoyed the Summer days  but I always feel as if I am arriving back home when we turn the corner into September. I feel that it is a  new season and a fresh start again.  There have been long, heady days spent in my garden this Summer.I often sit and simply look around me, soaking in the sounds,scents and sights of my magical  cottage garden. It is  a small oasis away from all the horrors of the outside world. I sit and watch the games that the insects play- tiny spiders  weaving an adventure playground of trails and webs across an obstacle course of stems , leaves and twigs.  Silvery winged insects  having fun  dancing and   dodging their way through the perilous  maze. This year there have been clouds of butterflies in the garden, not glamorous ones wearing   frilly frocks but simple white patterns; stencilled shapes against leafy backdrops. The pigeon has cooed his way  through the days- a soft, satisfying rhythm  and the swallows ( or are they swifts or martins?)  have been swirling, diving and swooping in circles , having a wonderful celebratory leaving party before they head off  for their winter holidays.

    My garden is being invaded by the Japanese- lanterns I hasten to add. I love the traffic light colours of these plants and I allow  them to trail where they like  around the purple smoke tree, curling against the quinacrodine magenta sedums. I pick off the overly green leaves and let the  green gold and cadmium orange lanterns shine through.   The star of the show this year has been the echinops . Their textured purple globes are often ringed with light. and the abstract pattern  is echoed by the smaller circles of poppy heads  clustered near by.  When I can drag myself out of the garden  I gaze at the hedges which  are already filled with Autumnal delights. Elderberries, rosehips , hops, and honeysuckle,  blackberries and bindweed.  Not sentimental views of pretty berries  but rich,  serious, abstract patterns   seen with a painter’s eye.  Which reminds me-  I am about to throw myself into a  passion of painting. having finished my book and almost ready to hand in my ‘other’ project -but more about that next time.

     

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  • Demonstrations July 2017

    I  was demonstrating last weekend at an Arts festival near Nottingham called Patchings,working for St Cuthbert’s paper mill who make Saunder’s Waterford paper. A treat for me because it is one of my favourite surfaces. I worked on  140lb Not (CP)  paper which I didn’t stretch before hand because I find that is , for me, an inhibiting process. If I have  prepared my paper in that way it means I have to perform and get it right! If I just take a piece of loose paper and play on it- I can be more spontaneous and experimental. That’s how it works for me anyway. Everyone was asking why my paper does not cockle as I work with quite a lot of water and  I think it is because these demonstration pieces are relatively small. . I use heavier weight paper if the painting is bigger .On any rare occasions that the painting needs flattening ,  I wet the back of it when the picture is dry , cover it with a protective layer and weight the whole thing down until it dries. That squishes out any  undulations. The other reason I like to paint watercolour on loose sheets is that I can curl up corners and move the paper about in an organic way in order to manipulate the paint and have more chance of  all the happenings- happening where I want them to!

    Here is one of the demonstration pieces of an atmospheric woodland corner. It started out as two dark trees but I quickly realised that the  negative space between them was reading as  one pale tree . I decided that I rather liked this, changed tack and added some further details to explain my new focus. I used some Daler Rowney ink  to add the suggestion of a sun and I must admit there was a  bit of a   gasp when the ink  went on and everyone leapt awake! I did several more demonstrations over the three days and met lots of people. I really hope that if you came you enjoyed it and I am sorry that I sold out of books on day 2! I thought that  you had all already got a copy – but apparently not! I will be extremely well prepared next year when I hope to go back again and will take lots of copies of  my new book with me.

     

    Demonstration

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  • The Arborealists in France-review

    This is a review of the current Arborealist exhibition showing in France. I am not showing in this particular exhibition as I have only just joined  the group but  will be exhibiting in their future shows.

    The exhibition “Les arbres de la Vienne” by Les Arboréalistes, until July 31 at the Dortoir des
    Moines (Dormitory of the Monks) in Saint-Benoît, is simply sublime. More than a group, the
    Arboralists movement was born in 2013 in the United Kingdom, led by Tim Craven, one of the
    exhibiting artists, Chief Curator of the Southampton Gallery in England.
    The aim of the movement is not only to paint trees, but also biodiversity, their representation and
    preservation. ” Cut a tree and it reveals all its history, its scars, its fights and its sufferings. The
    trees irrigate our history, ” says Philippa Beale. This English artist who has lived in Vaux-En-Couhé
    for many years, has organized the exhibition. Composed of 51 artists with international media
    coverage, the Arborealists are predominantly British. The movement also includes a few French
    and an Italian. 23 of them are participating in this exhibition. Each artist has his own approach, his
    interests, his technique, his supports and his style. Painters, sculptors, engravers, watercolors …
    including two British royal academicians and artists present in the English national collections.
    After several events in the United-Kingdom, the Arborealists have chosen to present their work in
    France, here in Saint-Benoît, for the first time. “In the fall of 2016, they spent a few days in the
    Vienne in search of French landscapes and trees as a source of inspiration, ” explains Beale. This
    exhibition is the fruit of their work. The trees are immortalized and sublimated, in their visual
    requirement, in exceptional pallets, sometimes unexpected.
    “Les arbres de la Vienne” until Monday, July 31 at the Dortoir des Moines of the Abbey of Saint-
    Benoît, 11 rue Paul Gauvin. Free entry. From 9h to 12h30 and from 13h30 to 18h (on Wednesdays
    from 9h to 12h30), on Sundays 9th and 30th July from 13h30 to 18h. Private view open to all,
    Friday July 7 at 5:30 pm. Presence of artists every day. philippa.beale@orange.fr,
    www.arborealists.c

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  • The secret wood

    I have recently been lucky enough to  become a member of a group called the Arborealists who are passionate about nature and in particular trees. Each artist in the group uses a different style or  medium  and the work varies from tiny to huge-  There were   watercolours  of at least a couple of metres long  in a recent exhibition and there are also wonderful etchings, oils, prints of trees made on  handmade paper using leaves from the same tree,  huge  draped, dangling installations of abstract work on paper made by a collaboration of artists and much more. It is really exciting .

    What is also very inspiring is the number of projects that are being lined up  throughout UK and in France too.  I joined the group just in time to be involved with a project that will  culminate in an exhibition in Uk next year. There is a secret wood that has been unmanaged for many years as an ecological experiment and barely any humans have entered it for decades. The group have been given permission to  visit the woodland  to gather information, paint and draw and  the resulting works will  be exhibited. We paid a spring visit to the wood  recently and will  return in the autumn. It will be interesting to see how  the atmosphere changes  with the  different plants and cycles of vegetation, the differing colours and  weather of a new season. This  theme is endlessly fascinating to me.

    When we visited in April the wood was a shimmering haze of  tender greens, flecks and speckles. White stars of wild garlic shone out from the  earthy floor and ferns with their shuttlecock feathered leaf patterns   sat snugly among last year’s crunchy bronzed leaves . I sat under   a group of  ancient yew trees  to paint the textured bark and twisting shapes of the trunks.  It felt like a dark oasis of earth   and shadow  under the  evergreen trees. Through the gaps  I could see  the  delicate  filigree and sparkle of the  sunlit foliage in the more open woodland beyond.

    As I made my sketches I began to feel that perhaps what I had chosen as a subject did not best capture the overall atmosphere of the wood . I had spent a long time earlier wandering through the varied tangled treescapes looking, listening to birdsong, smelling the scent of the wild garlic,looking again, soaking up the feel of the place  before settling. I  remembered the words of my late father in one of his books*:’ I like to settle quickly wherever I happen to be and see what I can make of the material immediately available, looking at in terms of interesting patterns.” It saves endless time spent walking around  looking for the paintable subject.’  Sound advice as it is not what the subject is but how we interpret it that can make it interesting. I noticed one of the other artists had immediately settled in front of  some shrubs that to me looked uninspiring and noted how she stayed there for the whole two days , painting it in detail. Perhaps I should have chosen something earlier? Maybe I should be painting, not sketching? In fact , what I had  been drawing was probably  complete rubbish in comparison to her amazing work!  I realised that I could go two ways with these thoughts. I could either learn from them and act accordingly or allow all my insecurities and doubts creep in. I decided that  the lesson I would take from this was to be more confident about my  decisions because it was how I interpreted the subject that mattered.   My paintings are not ‘of’ the woodland’  but  ‘about’ it and the arguably ‘wasted’ time spent  gazing and absorbing the sense of the place was actually crucial to my way of working, as it becomes more towards abstract and less about representation.

                   ‘fallen tree’ in the secret wood.

    I found it fascinating and sometimes worrying over the weekend to get a glimpse into the way other artists work and discovered a few things about myself.  I decided not to allow other  artist’s  creative decisions feed my  negative self doubts  but  let the experience  strengthen  my sense of being ‘me’ . Creativity is not hierarchic. There isn’t a ‘best’ way to do things.  Whatever I or any of us decide to do artistically can be  unique and valid.

     

    * ‘Watercolour -Practise and progress’ by G. John Blockley published in 1985 by  A&C Black ( out of print)

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