The Essex landscape is traditionally underrated by artists in favour of more classically romantic areas.
The landscape here is being lost through constant building of housing, roads and related sprawling infrastructure at an alarming rate. If people do paint Essex, they tend towards the obviously cute bits and the character, listed buildings.
However, swathes of Essex have a romantic beauty all their own - a quiet, magical bleakness, a gentle and peaceful ancient heart, but you have to stop and be aware with all your senses to experience it – rather than just being simply handed an immediate wham-bam drama.
I have lived in Essex for most of my life, and walked and ridden thousands of miles here. I am intimately involved with the storm-bruised skies, blazing summer sunsets, the hazelly-brick clay and the history of the land – where mammoth’s teeth were dug up, forgotten iron-age sites, tumuli nestled in the landscape, decayed roman roads, green lanes, hollow-ways and droves, and the sites of lost and destroyed farm-workers’ cottages, medieval barns and manors pulled down after the last war.
In my latest series of work, I am deliberately working on a small scale in order to ask people to really look, to draw attention into quiet, dream-like vistas that first appear relatively empty but if you take the time to really see, are filled with detail and colour.
I am seeking to evoke, rather than describe, and asking the viewer to attend more closely to the easily-overlooked and really experience the landscape - in effect I am taking a still-life approach to the essence of the world around us.
I hope that through being asked to notice deep beauty in these simple lines, people may learn to look more slowly and carefully at the world around them, and perhaps develop a deeper respect and love for the land instead of seeing it simply as a commodity.
I spend a great deal of time outside and every day I see a thousand paintings in the changing shape and light of one cloud, casting shadows on the meadow below; the light in a puddle with birds’ footprints in the mud beneath, in a field that once had a name; the kaleidoscopic colours of a single tree. One star in the early night sky, the wrinkled bark of our ancient boundary oaks, the gentle mists and fog with its land-enfolding shifts and drifts. I am constantly aware of how connected I am to the land, and how insignificant – if I spend the rest of my life painting, I will never have time to come close to trying to evoke the beauty around me.
I also make many of my own paints and use as many natural materials as possible, particularly pigments dug from the earth, to paint the earth.
I use ochres dug from the 7,000 year old ochre mines at Clearwell Caves, Epping yellow ochre, Mudlark Verdigris (made from found copper on the banks of the Thames), Suffolk chalks, a ground blue stone called Vivianite which was discovered in a Cornish mine; powdered Iron ore, natural woad blue from Somerset, genuine Indigo, oak gall and walnut inks, ground slate greys and powdered English willow charcoal, to name just a few.
Handling materials that have been used by generations of painters for thousands of years is an alchemical process. Where I do use synthetic pigments, I favour medieval colours like Smalt (ground blue glass), Sepia and Caput Mortuum (an iron oxide), and use oil paint made from pigment reclaimed from cleaning water.
I work in a mixture of hand-made oil paints, inks, dry pigment, charcoal, graphite and pencils made at the Derwent factory in the North of England and, when I can get them, I love to work on found surfaces.
I love making my own paints because of the process, but also it cuts down on packaging and if you use natural pigments, it cuts down the production of synthetics and packaging. I also love the process of using earth to paint the earth and charcoal to paint trees.
My usual working process is to underpaint in acrylic and ink, use pencil for detail, and oil last for highlights.
So, whether I am using oil or acrylic, the paint is made in a simple way.