Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1

The flag’s been handed over, the torch extinguished, and a palpable air of loss hangs over the country. But all is not lost – there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in the wildlife art world:

  1. It’s less than a week to Birdfair
  2. Give yourself something to look forward to – how about booking a wildlife art course in Scotland in 2013?
  3. Go field sketching – the weather’s warm, but not too hot, and you can avoid the showers if you’re careful
  4. Enter the draw to win a signed limited edition print of Heading Home by signing up to my newsletter
  5. Visit an art exhibition in the metropolis now the crowds are gone –
  6. If you don’t like the city, check out these top 10 coastal galleries
  7. Buy a National Art Pass and get free entry to over 200 museums, galleries and historic houses
  8. Make a date in the diary 9 Oct – 26 Nov British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition at Nature in Art showing the winners from the latest 2012 competition
  9. Learn a new skill – sign up to an art class
  10. …And you can do all of the above without missing the Olympics!
Heading Home

Heading Home


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Artists Can Have Olympic Moments Too

As the Olympics draws to a close I can’t help thinking about the joy and pride we’ve seen on the athletes’ faces after years of preparation and training pays off. As I thought about it I realised that artists come up with exactly those emotions.

Ok, we don’t know the sublime joy of winning a gold medal in front of millions, but we certainly know about dedication – years of building skills, practising, trying again and again when a piece just doesn’t go right. The feeling when you’ve kept at it and finally it does come out even better than you thought it would… there’s a pride and a joy in that moment, knowing that you could have given up when the going got tough but you pushed yourself to keep on going.

It’s not just established artists who experience these Olympic moments. One of the comments I hear so often when I’m teaching beginners is “Can’t I just call it finished?” (This is code for “I’m not happy with it but I don’t know what to do to improve it.”) My answer is always “Well you could, but then you’ll always feel slightly dissatisfied with it. Why don’t we carry on for a bit and make it in to something you’ll always be proud of?” One of my favourite moments in a class was when one of my students’ “Can’t I just call it finished?” became “Wow! I’d never have thought I could do that!” 

In the wise words of our final 2012 medallist, Sam Murray, “Honestly, if you have a goal – if there’s anything you want to achieve in life – don’t let anybody get in your way. You can do it. If I can do it, and I’m a normal girl, anyone can do what they want to do.” That applies to art just as much as the modern pentathlon.

So next time you’re contemplating giving up, remember the dedication we’ve seen from the athletes. Instead of conceding defeat, how about giving yourself an Olympic moment?

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Nature and Art at Stroud Festival of Nature

I’m just in the process of signing up to take part in the fifth Stroud Festival of Nature (8 September 2012, 11am-6pm). The Festival is a great opportunity to encourage people to connect with Gloucestershire’s natural world. I’ll be displaying my work along side over thirty exhibitors including:

  • RSPB
  • Cotswold Way National Trail
  • Butterfly Conservation
  • The National Trust
  • Ecotricity
  • Natural England

There will also be a photography display, live animals and a Nature Art zone. A special Green Zone will be devoted to promoting sustainable energy.

All the exhibitors will be housed in marquees and gazebos spread throughout the beautiful scenery of Stratford Park. Spreading out the displays encourages everyone to explore the parkland and reduces crowding.

I’ll post more here as new event are confirmed, but in the meantime make sure you check out their website and put the date in your diary. I’ll see you there.

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Skylark Nest – Update

About a week ago I posted about finding a skylark nest on one of the local commons ( I checked back today and what had been a nest with four eggs is now a nest with four healthy-looking skylark chicks. They’re still quite tiny so I suspect they are only a day or two old.

Their camouflage is incredible, the head feathers look just like dried grass. I’m fascinated by the way birds fit in to their environment so that was really inspiring to see.

No sign of the parents anywhere near the nest but plenty of adult birds singing and flying over the rest of the common.

Skylark chicks leave the nest at about ten days old, before they’re able to fly, so I’ll only have a few more chances to see them before they go. I hope I can see them when they first fledge and start to explore their surroundings. That would be awesome!

Another update after my next visit.


[See below for quick update]

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National Exhibition Wildlife Art (NEWA) – Call For Entries

NEWA logoA quick reminder that the closing date for entries to the National Exhibition Wildlife Art (NEWA) is approaching rapidly. Application forms must be received before Wednesday 6 June 2012, with handing in of actual artwork in July. You can submit your application form online so there’s still time to enter.

You can read more about NEWA in my previous blog post:


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Inspired by Gloucestershire

I’m really lucky to live in the beautiful county of Gloucestershire. We have a wonderful range of habitats: estuary, oak and beech woodlands, arable, wetlands and limestone grassland filled with the appropriate wildlife. My only sadness is that we don’t have coast – Gloucestershire-on-Sea would be perfect!

Grassland MosaicOne of my favourite habitats is limestone grassland, of which there are several examples within a few miles of my studio. Most are commonland, managed by the National Trust but freely available for public use. And used they certainly are: jogging, hang-gliding, paragliding, model aeroplane or kite flying, family games, walking and picnics are just a few of the activities that take place.

I grew up adjacent to Rodborough Common, so most of my childhood was spent exploring the area and hunting for orchids, pasque flowers and other grassland species. A new discovery was always a cause for celebration.  Occasionally I saw Northern Wheatears passing through or caught a glimpse of Redpolls chattering amongst a stand of pines, and most of my childhood butterfly watching took place on the Common.

The Grassland Mosaic image (above) was inspired by my walks on Rodborough Common. I didn’t want to paint a conventional landscape as there  were so many different views that made up my experiences.

Swallow sketchesThough I now live further away, I still love the commons and go there for inspiration or to just recharge my batteries. Yesterday evening was my first visit for a while and it was heaven! Late afternoon sun bathed the area in a warm golden glow. Swallows and swifts zipped past, and the air was filled with skylark song. Green-winged Orchids were numerous and I counted over thirty Fly Orchids, far more than usual.

Best of all I discovered a skylark’s nest. Walking along the path, I accidentally flushed the parent bird from the nest. (Why do birds nest next to paths when there’s acres of undisturbed land to use?) A very quick peek revealed four brown speckled eggs. Tempting though it was to grab a photograph or sketch, I didn’t want to disturb the birds so I moved away. One of the parents returned straight away, so they weren’t too worried by my presence.

I’ll go back later this week to see how the skylark family is getting on. Now that I know where they are I can observe from a safe distance. Skylark chicks would be wonderful to see. Lets just hope they survive to fledge.

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Stroud Open Studios Preparation

My first attempt at video… with editing help from Techie Sis.

Usually my studio is purely painting space. I’m really lucky that it’s large enough to use as exhibition space, but that requires a little reorganizing, as the video shows.

This year I’m showing paintings (from Britain, Egypt and the Falklands), limited edition prints, puzzles, cards and illustrations from two books during Open Studios.

If you’d like to visit but can’t make the official Open Studio dates please contact me to arrange an alternative time.

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10 Tasks Before Open Studios

For many artists and arts organisations, summer is Open Studio season. Opening your studio is a fantastic experience that enables you to make new contacts, reacquaint yourself with existing customers and see first hand how viewers interact with your work. Today I’m sharing ten suggestions to add to your To Do list before you  put that welcome sign on the door.

  1. Read the rules. I’m assuming here that you’re part of a larger group of artists who are all opening their studios at the same time. Someone (or a team) will be doing the coordinating and they’re bound to be sending out information with instructions and asking for information for publicity purposes. Be their perfect artist and respond promptly with the information required in the format they’ve specified. They’ll love you for it.
  2. Tell everyone. Obviously you’ll tell your existing buyers, potential buyers, friends, and family, but there are a few others to liaise with too. Firstly, the neighbours. It’s only courteous to warn them you’ll have extra visitors and traffic in the area. If you do get on with them they may like to visit and may even offer to help with the preparations. If you don’t get on with them an invitation to your studio may be a chance to mend fences. At the very least don’t give them any more ammunition. Secondly, talk to other artists in the locality and perhaps publicise a trail from one studio to another. People are much more likely to visit if they can see several studios in one trip.
  3. leafletsPublicity material for distribution is likely to have been produced by the Open Studios organiser(s), but you can add to the reach in advance by sending details to local art and community groups. Remember to display your own forthcoming events brochures within the studio itself. If you teach art classes for any other venues you might display their brochures too. Do you give talks? Then display your talks leaflet and encourage visitors to pass them on to groups they belong to. People like to take information away, and good publicity materials will help them to remember and talk about your work. 
  4. Tidy Up. Of course. Obvious. But don’t neglect the outside of your studio either. First impressions count, and “kerb appeal” is not just for those selling property. A weed-free driveway, clean paintwork, perhaps flowers or a dramatic plant near the entrance conveys that the artist cares about their environment and is willing to make an effort to give a welcoming first impression. Who is more likely to buy a painting, the person who feels relaxed and welcome or the one who’s already feeling unimpressed when they enter your studio? Exactly.
  5. Utilise your space. Obviously how you display your work depends on the space you have available. If you’re using several rooms, can you theme each according to subject, medium or chronology? In a single room several small groups of paintings arranged according to a theme may be more successful than unrelated pictures equidistantly spaced. Avoid placing glazed works opposite a window if possible, as the reflections will make it difficult to see the work. Don’t forget to hang work in the hallway or entrance area too so visitors will see your art as soon as they step over the threshold. This may be your visitors’ first ever sight of your art so make sure it’s a good impression. Strong paintings give a tantalising hint of gold that encourages your visitors to discover the motherload within the studio itself.
  6. Do a Risk Assessment. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that it should be ten pages long, in triplicate and signed off by the local health & safety executive. Just think about your visitors moving through your space. You know where that sharp corner or low beam is, don’t you? They don’t. Ouch! Simple measures like Mind Your Head signs, hazzard tape, a line of masking tape at the front of each tread on the stairs will help to give your visitors a comfortable experience.
  7. Get those signs out there. The rule is: you can’t make things too obvious. There’s no point in having a wonderful open studio if no one can find it, so make sure you use plenty of signs. Don’t put your signs on road sign poles as the highways authorities will remove them. Check your signs periodically as they may be (re)moved, graffiti-ed, or otherwise sabotaged. That’s depressing but true, so be prepared to put up replacements as necessary. Does your studio have a window facing the road? Put a sign in it. Add an image: not only do you show viewers what type of art to expect but signs with images give considerably greater recall than those without.
  8. Label your artwork, clearly but discreetly. Make sure labels are legible, neat and show title, medium and price of the work. If the label doesn’t show the size of the work make sure you keep that information to hand in case a buyer asks.
  9. Offer Refreshments. Not essential, but offering drinks and finger food lends a “private view” feel to the proceedings. Wine and juice are standard refreshments but you could offer Pimms or a non-alcoholic fruit punch as a summer alternative or mulled wine in winter to be a little different. If you’re providing food make sure you provide plenty of napkins too. Greasy fingerprints never enhance artwork.
  10. booksExpand your art display by including merchandise, a press book, artist’s statement, portfolio, sketchbooks, travel diaries – anything that helps visitors to connect with your work. A visitors’ book allows you to collect contact details for next time’s invitation list (be clear that you might use addresses for this purpose).

Opening your studio takes a lot of planning and work but certainly repays the effort. It’s not just about this year’s event: a good experience for your visitors will lead to repeat visits in future years.

What are your top tips for Open Studios?

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Help a Hedgehog with Herts Hogline

A while ago I blogged about a local hedgehog rescue centre and today I’m very happy to share this guest blog post from Lynne Garner (no relation to me, as far as I know) of Herts Hogline. Please check out their website for loads of hedgehog facts and a terrific hog gallery. And if you can help in any way, that’s even better. Over to Lynne:

This is front leg and back leg who have become the smallest hoglet I’ve to successfully hand rear. They were 32 and 34 grams and that silver blog next to them is a ten pence piece.

If we all helped, just a little!

Did you know that the 6th to 12th May is Hedgehog Week?

Did you know there are many small hedgehog rescue centres dotted all over the country? Many like the one I run ( are often hidden in back bedrooms, garages or converted sheds. We all need support and not just in the form of a cash donation. So why not get proactive and join this hidden army.

Not sure how to help?

Here are a few suggestions, which I hope will inspire you to actively support a local hedgehog rescue centre.

This was the twins just six weeks later enjoying their first wander on the grass. They were soon re-homed by one of our 15 helpers.

Why not donate items? Often towels, unwanted bowls, hutches etc. are needed. Most of our hutches have been kindly donated and have allowed us to spend money on more important things such as medical supplies. Have you recently been unfortunate enough to lose a beloved cat or dog? Don’t let their food go to waste, donate it. We take all food donated to us and if we can’t use it we re-donate to a local animal rescue centre who can, so none of it goes to waste.

How many of you throw away stamps and printer cartridges? If saved rather than binned these can raise money. Over the last ten years by collecting printer cartridges we’ve raised enough money to cover the cost of care for 25 hedgehogs. We’ve also recently found a dealer who will take foreign and old UK currencies, so have started to collect these as well.

We all have skills of some kind. If you can write then creating publicity literature or educational literature is always helpful. Can you saw a piece of wood; many rescue centres need items made. For example one of our supporters crafted half a dozen hand-made wooden toys. The sale of just one of these toys covered the care of two hedgehogs. Another is a ceramicist and donates hand-made key rings, which we sell to raise funds. If you’d like to see her work visit: Are you a web design expert? Small organisations can always benefit from an on-line presence. Are you good with a camera? Images of hedgehogs rescued are always helpful as they can be used in literature and on websites. We’ve had photographs featuring one of our hoglets turned into greetings cards, which we sell to help raise revenue.

One of our latest hedgehogs (Tripod – I didn’t name him our vet did) who had to have a back leg removed. Sophie the nurse ensuring the wound is clean and healing well.

Why not donate time and do those little jobs that always need doing. Many need someone to shake a collection tin in the street. We have a volunteer who has a stall at the local village Christmas fair each November. She sells second hand items and often raises enough money to cover the care costs for three to four hedgehogs.

Lastly word of mouth is the best advertisement any hedgehog rescue could wish for. Simply talk to people; the rewards reaped can sometimes be immeasurable. A great example of this was in the summer of 2004. A lady walking her dog bumped into a girl who had found a hoglet. Luckily this lady had heard one of my presentations, so she passed on our details. By this simple action that hoglet and its four siblings (found a couple of hours later) all survived and were released that autumn. I also rely on word of mouth to advertise the presentations I give to local groups. These presentations give me a chance to raise much-needed funds and just as importantly awareness.

Tripod coming around after his check up.

So go on give it a go you never know where it may lead!

If you’d like to discover more about us then:
Follow us on Twitter: Herts Hogline
Like us on Facebook:
Follow our blog: The Hedgehog Shed

The interior of our purpose built 6′ x 8′ shed


An extra way you can help would be to vote for Herts Hogline in the Shed of the Year competition  and help them win the £1000 prize. Imagine how much food and medicine that would buy. Public voting starts 21 May 2012. Put it in your diary now. Please.

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BBC Radio Gloucestershire: Morning Thoughts

Gloucestershire residents: do you listen to BBC Radio Gloucestershire? If not, why not… it’s great. I love the blend of local news and views, competitions, humour and a wide variety of music. This week I’ll be taking part in a show too.

Last week I recorded an interview with Claire Carter from Radio Gloucestershire. Claire does a regular feature called Morning Thoughts, for Mark Cummings’ breakfast programme, where she asks a Gloucestershire resident a series of questions, the resulting interview being split in to sections for broadcast each morning the following week. Usually the interview runs from Monday to Friday, though this week the Bank Holiday has disrupted the schedule slightly.

The interview covers the participant’s morning routine, commute and attitude, but also focusses on their favourite Gloucestershire places and what would be their perfect Gloucestershire weekend. I particularly enjoyed that last question, especially as I was given unlimited virtual money to spend!

Actually, I was encouraged to see that I didn’t need unlimited money for a perfect weekend. Gloucestershire has so much going for it that whether leisure, tourism, business or culture is your ideal, the county has it covered. You’ll have to wait until Friday to hear what would be my perfect weekend.

Today’s broadcast was all about my commute to my wonderful studio… and if you’d like to see the wonderful studio for yourself, I’m taking part in Stroud’s Open Studios this weekend and next. The studio will be open 11am – 6pm the middle two weekends of May.

Whilst I enjoyed the interview I’m certainly not looking forward to hearing myself on the radio, especially as I was struggling with a cold when we made the recording. Even when I’m well my voice never seems to sound as I think it should when it’s broadcast.

I hope to have my interview on my website soon, but if you miss the original broadcasts they’ll be available on the BBC iPlayer for the seven days after the original transmission.. Here’s the first one (my part is at 2:52.30)

Tomorrow features my favourite Gloucestershire places. So many to choose from, it was tough to narrow it down. See if your favourites are amongst them.

Enjoy listening.


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