Getting the bigger picture - taking a look at what inspires the members of the Otter Vale Art Society
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:36 18 March 2019
With East Devon having a thriving art scene, Philippa Davies went to meet members of the Otter Vale Art Society, to find out what inspires its members
East Devon is full of clubs and societies, galleries, and exhibitions organised by groups of enthusiastic and talented artists.
But what different reasons do people have for drawing and painting; what inspires them, and how do they benefit from it personally?
‘Exciting’, ‘therapeutic’, ‘a journey’, ‘a conversation’, ‘a challenge”. All words used by members of the Otter Vale Art Society to describe the creative process and how it makes them feel. Talking to these artists, it is fascinating to learn about what motivates them, what their art brings into their lives, and the aspects of their personalities that are expressed in their work.
Take Chloe Brice, for example. She produces beautiful, detailed pictures of birds and animals, which are now printed as greetings cards and sold at Ottery Community Market. But was Chloe originally inspired by a love for wildlife? Not at all – it all began with a very special type of artists’ pencil.
Chloe had never had any art tuition but was painting watercolours as a hobby when, in her late 70s, she saw a demonstration of Polychromas pencils, which are oil-based and intensely-coloured, with very fine points. Fascinated, she joined OVAS to learn how to use them.
“I started to learn about how to do perspective and focal points and backgrounds, all those sort of things which I really had not had any idea about before,” she said. She then discovered her talent for animal and bird portraits: “It just seems to be what I can do!” She has welcomed the money she makes from selling her cards, but it is not her main motivation; attending the art sessions is what matters. “It’s about friendship, learning something new, and commitment; you have to do it every week, so you have a target and a focus.”
Sue Williams is a former headteacher and OFSTED inspector. Art had always been part of her life, but she only started painting ‘seriously’ about 10 years ago; after 40 years in the education system, she wanted “something that would challenge me in a different way.” She certainly rose to that challenge; one of her paintings was accepted by the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition last year. Any artist can submit their work, but it has to get through two rounds of selection. Sue was delighted when her picture was not only accepted, but bought by a Londoner (she doesn’t know who). “The feeling you get when someone you don’t know buys your painting is second to none,” she said.
The picture was an unusual study of an abandoned ship off the Conwy coast of north Wales. The vessel is rusting and adorned with graffiti; the painting is called Regeneration.
“I do enjoy painting quirky things, rather than ‘sweet little animals’ or something,” she said. “The only thing I can’t paint is portraits, I’m hopeless at them, but I’ll do anything else.
“I do like to be challenged. The journey of it is more important to me than the finished picture, and the finished picture is a record of that journey, using different methods from abstract through to realism.”
Chris Poole is cheerfully honest about his early lack of artistic aptitude. “I was so bad at art at school that they wouldn’t let me take the exam – and they were right,” he said. But he became intensely interested in art after reading up about the subject in the school library. From his mid-teens to early 20s he produced what he describes as “very teenager-y things, absolutely about self-expression.” Then his career, as a research scientist and then a teacher, took over.
After retiring seven years ago, Chris finally had time to join OVAS and learn about technique. The society hosts regular demonstrations by visiting artists, and Chris found these “a real eye-opener.” He now enjoys both using, and experimenting with, his new skills.
“I like painting things that surprise me,” he said. “If I’m doing a sketch, I want to get it accurate. But when I’m doing a painting and working from a photo, I’m disappointed if it ends up looking like the photo.
“I like making a picture to be like a conversation basically. I’ve got an idea in my head of where I want to go, but then the picture does things back and says ‘what about this then?’ and I think, either ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘oh wow!’. I like being a little bit sloppy, so that there’s things I haven’t done deliberately, and then the good things that happen like that, I find it exciting. It absolutely is a journey for me.”
Unlike Chris, Maureen Stone was good at art at school, and took an A-level in the subject, which also involved drawing Saxon and Norman architecture. She did not go on to have any formal training – “I’d like to have done but my parents said ‘you must have a proper job’,” but after her children had left home, she was finally able to start art classes.
Maureen says painting and drawing have made her more aware of her surroundings; natural scenery, weather conditions, the sky. She also still loves buildings as a subject for her art, particularly old sheds and barns. “I think all too often we can miss things, and not appreciate what’s going on around us.”
But there is more to it than that; for Maureen, painting re-evokes childhood’s unselfconscious freedom to experiment with art.
“Every child draws, but then we get inhibited – and I’m trying to get that back,” she said. “I use bigger brushes and just put the paint on and see what happens, and that’s so exciting, it really is. Just flicking paint on the paper and letting it dribble down, it does something to me, somehow. It’s a freedom you don’t have every day.”
The Otter Vale Art Society meets informally on Tuesday mornings at the Ottery cricket pavilion, for members to paint and chat. It also holds monthly demonstrations by visiting artists, and an annual exhibition. Visit www.ottervaleartsociety.com for details.
To read more features from East Devon Resident, click here.