When Davina from Number Seven Dulverton came to St Davids for a holiday I invited her in to wander around in my studio. As a result she took some lovely photographs and I invited her to write a guest blogpost. I hope this is the first of a few guest posts on my blog.
There is no doubt that there is a certain allure and fascination at being allowed to view first hand the studio of any creative whether they be an artist or writer – or in Jackie’s case both.
Artists’ studios have always captivated my attention from a small child, my mother studied at art college, I knew she was artistic and had a certain flare for display and interior design but I have never seen her paint or draw and she certainly never had her own studio. But her love for art and design was very much part of my upbringing and our lives. However I do have very early memories of being surrounded by pots of well-used brushes, pens and inks from venturing into the garden studio of the children’s illustrator Edward Ardizzone at his home in Rodmersham where we lived. He was by then already a very old man and I no older than nine. I would tidy and sweep the leaves that had blown into his studio although at that age what true help my impact was I very much doubt! In return instead of giving me money, which I would have instantly spent in the village shop on sweets he would give me a signed copy of one of his books, which I treasure to this day and I can still visualise the ‘oh so high book shelves’ that stretched from floor to ceiling from which he would select a title from the tightly packed shelves.
Since then my role commissioning work for Number Seven and writing for Somerset Art Works I have been privileged to visit many studios and I can assure you the fascination never wanes; they are as individual as the people who work in them. I will admit it is the cluttered and chaotic spaces that appeal to me most, the ones that have not been tidied in preparation for open studio events, the spaces of constant creative flux – the inner sanctums where visitors rarely get to tread.
Jackie understands this inquisitiveness and often shares images of her work in progress, still on the drawing board within its studio setting. As a result many of us feel very familiar with her private working space, but earlier this year I got to see it first hand.
Chris, my partner had work in the area and so I decided to join him, combining the two and taking a working holiday. It would also be an opportunity to catch up with Jackie, collect some of her prints and get her to sign a stack of books for our customers back in Exmoor.
I was very conscious of the fact that the deadline for Wild Swans was drawing close and that her spare time, if any, would be precious. I am sure that many of you who work from home will understand the presumption that you are free for endless cups of tea and phone calls that you would never receive whilst ‘at the office’ and it can be hard to say no without causing offence.
However Jackie made me more than welcome – I took cake and I took gin (to aid the signing of books) and I joined her on her morning walks with Ivy. It was a delight to be let into her realm that she shares so freely in the virtual world.
She was keen for me to photograph her studio. So one afternoon as the timber lined attic cocooned us from the March wind and rain Jackie painted while I snapped away. Christopher mischievously hid his curious teasing tags for Jackie to discover another day, and a certain sense of quiet and calm descended about us all; there was no need for conversation.
Jackie’s studio occupies the entire top floor of her sturdy little cottage, a tiny turning staircase leads you up, a door baring cats and creatures whose paws and fluff would cause chaos if they were to enter. The ceiling is so low it allows you only to stand under the central roofline, but since Jackie sits to paint so this is no worry to her at all. The bookcases, plan chests and shelves that line each side, accentuate the narrowness of the room and every surface is filled with the potential to inspire a story or painting – my camera eye was more than happy.
A cabinet of curiosities is how many would describe the artefacts that take up residence in Jackie’s studio and all are there to inform her drawings – the envelopes sprouting with feathers, the perfectly poised stuffed hare, even the broken moth eaten specimen that no doubt was just as sprightly in its time. The groups of objects have not been ‘displayed’, they simply find a home where there is space, and get moved around as Jackie requires them. This is truly a working, evolving collection and depending on the subject matter of her next book or project new objects appear to take centre stage on her desk while others relinquish on the shelves chatting amongst themselves until they are recalled. There is a sense of suspended animation, puppets rest patiently, Karin Lillmany’s felted creatures conspire in huddled groups; traces of chocolate still on their muzzles and Jackie often jests that they all ride wildly at night on the wooden rocking horse!
There are two desks, one at either end of the space. One is off course filled with jars of brushes, tubes of watercolour and gouache, bottles of ink and mixing palettes. That tantalising array of jumbled mess from which images and pictures grow on crisp white paper stretched on boards forming a fleeting window of white amongst all the life and colour. I say fleeting because Jackie paints surprisingly quickly once an idea forms in her mind and many years, of looking, studying, drawing, drawing and more drawing means that she is adept at her craft.
The other desk acts as office but is no less creative. Here she goes through the layout of books with her publishers and edits photographs as well as the daily task of replying to emails. Next to this hub of activity is a day bed nestled under the eaves of a window overlooking her garden and the Welsh stonewalls beyond. Filled with bright cushions and ruled over by a huge cuddly tiger Jackie ‘rests’ here to read, taking in the texts of other authors for who she has been commissioned to illustrate.
Reading can take place anywhere and so too can writing, which means that Jackie is not bound to the confines of her studio. She has always taken immense pleasure in exploring the headland that is an extension of her garden and often takes her notebook and camera with her, hunkering down behind a sheltering rock or nestling on warm grass with a view of ocean blue and making it her office for an afternoon. Having Ivy has resulted in Jackie taking longer walks once again and a favourite destination is the wide expanse of Whitesands where Ivy becomes a blur at speed in the sea mist relishing in the space to run and become inspiration for a future book.
It goes without saying that it was a sheer delight to visit Jackie in her studio and landscape, an honour to be invited and I don’t think I distracted her too much.
What is it we are seeking when we enter an artist’s studio, are we hoping to catch that spark of imagination in action, some secret that is withheld or an act of creative osmosis that will suddenly make us too be able to draw and paint. Are we hoping to unwittingly inspire or be inspired or to simply witness the creative process and glimpse a working lifestyle that is seen as outside convention?
Being an artist or writer is primarily a solitary occupation and to be let into this incredibly personal space where ideas are their precious commodity is very special. If you are let in enjoy, impart energy and remember close the door behind you for if we wish them to continue enriching our worlds with books and art then we need to leave them doing what they love best – creating!
When I visited Jackie was of the mind to print out this message that was pinned to the door of the writer Barbara Newhall Follett:
‘Nobody may come into this room if the door is shut tight (if it is shut not quite latched it is all right) without knocking. The person in this room if he agrees that one shall come in will say “come in,” or something like that and if he does not agree to it he will say “Not yet, please,” or something like that. The door may be shut if nobody is in the room but if a person wants to come in, knocks and hears no answer that means there is no one in the room and he must not go in. Reason. If the door is shut tight and a person is in the room the shut door means that the person in the room wishes to be left alone.’
Next month I will be in Number Seven for an exhibition with Tamsin Abbott and Eleanor Bartleman, and a ‘Wing-Walk’ celebration for The Wild Swans.
And if you now have a taste for wandering round studios, look at these beautiful photos from Jake Green.