Upcoming residency at Porthmeor Studios with Freelands Foundation

For the month of March I will living and working in St. Ives, Cornwall as a resident artist at Porthmeor studios. The residency is supported by the Freelands Foundation and I am so excited to go down there!

To make the most of the opportunity, I want to start thinking intentionally now about how I will use my time. I want to come up with some aims and a plan for what I want to do. I don’t want to plan so thorough I can’t make on instinct when I am there, but I also don’t want to, from lack of planning, spend time doing work I could have done in advance.

I want to use this post to start getting my thoughts down. When I applied for the residency I wrote a statement of how I intend to use the time and I’m going to flesh those ideas out here.

Leading up the residency

The new work I want to make is different from anything I’ve done before. I was looking through some old work I made outdoors – two sketches and a painting, and had the idea to turn these sketches into larger oil paintings. Thinking about dioramas in paintings, partly inspired by the artist Emma Webster, I want to experiment with turning these flat outdoor sketches into dioramas. This means I want to add depth, through light and shadow, pushing shapes backwards and forwards in space. This is similar to what I was doing at uni – when I would paint outside and then add cathedral inspired architectural structures, the lines of these structures I would paint to appear under and over brushstrokes in the painting, to create the illusion of depth:

Here are the plein air works I would like to make into paintings:

I would like, I think, to just start on these paintings, and reckon with them straight on the canvas. In my last series, particularly the painting Three Trees I found this created exciting possibility and chance in the act of painting. This method replaces a way of working I have used in the past: of drawing over and over to design the composition before I start painting. Recently I found this to be limiting, because I it means keep a tight grip on the painting, not letting it out of my control, staying in my head and not listening to anything else. By resolving a painting directly on the canvas, an instinctual, magical, unpredictable experience can unfold, where I am present and responding to the object in front of me, rather than what I wish in my head. I am not sure the process of sketching to design a composition should be fully dropped in my practice, I’m not sure where it might be useful in the future, but for now I am excited to explore painting without a plan.

During and after the residency

Aims/Objectives (The questions I want to answer)

Do I paint natural landscapes from memory as an attempt to escape from urban life?
Why do I prefer to paint natural landscapes?
How does my painting change when I work in a location close to nature?
A writing practice alongside my painting would help me to answer these questions, because I thinking here about the reasons behind my practice, so I need to take a reflective approach to answer them.

I would love to write a daily note of what I do and how I’m feeling whilst there. I do that before bed anyway, so perhaps that? I could also do a longer weekly blog post? I tried doing this in Devon and I wasn’t too successful because I didn’t have a good framework for it! The weeks went by and I kind of lost track of how long I had been there. Having a weekly calendar in the back of my sketchbook will write weekly to-dos and include a weekly overview as part of this. Even just a few sentences would be great and some photos with it!

Are there any questions I could ask myself throughout the residency? Some writing prompts:
What am I working on?
What am I being drawn to make?
What is working?
What is not working?
What have I been up to this week?
How am I feeling this week?

What can I write about after the residency. Here are prompts I can think of:
Have the colours or textures I used pre, post and during the residency differed?
Has the subject matter (pre,post and during) changed?
Has the level of abstraction changed?
If there has been a change, what kind of change?
If there have been changes, why do I think there have been changes?

Through intentional, reflective writing during and after the residency I hope to understand my own practice better and find answers to these questions.

One prediction I am interested to test is whether the colours and textures I use will change, in subconscious ways, because I am a product (gross word) of my environment.

Another question I intend to ask:
Is outdoor painting still an integral part of my practice?
I intend to paint/draw outside around St. Ives because I want to test whether going outside, setting up for a few hours, and painting *officially* is really the way to work anymore. I want to find out if I instead prefer to paint memories of me just living my life, where I might pull out a sketchbook at a fitting moment. I feel like this is the crux of the question – how much intention do I want to have when making work outdoors?

For just over a year I have increasingly painted in the studio, rather than outside. I have increasingly relied on memory or reference sketches/paintings made outside, to paint in the studio. Whilst before, the plein air paintings were the finished result, now they are (also) a step towards a studio based piece of work.

What makes a plein air piece worthy of being turned into a painting? An impactful memory which sticks with me. This memory can be produced either from an intentional outdoor painting session, or a casual sketch done unintentionally. In that case perhaps I am placing too much weight on the difference between these two types of making. Perhaps what matters is that I go outside making, regardless of the planning I do beforehand.

I think I want to try doing both: planning to paint/draw outside, and also keeping a sketchbook with me when I’m out and about, to sketch where I go. The difference is perhaps more to do with the capabilities of the materials I use. If I plan to go outside, I can be equipped with a large surface and paint! / a messy material like charcoal or acrylics or something else. If I sketch accidentally I am likely going to be confined to a small piece of paper and easily transportable materials. I think a mix of both! The aim is to experiemnt with a wide range of practices – paint, charcoal, pastels, acrylics, paint mediums, mixed media, collage even?!, pencil… Canvas – stretched and unstretched, paper, cardboard, sketchbook, wood?

How do I want structure this outdoor making? Should I spend the first week painting outside all of the time and then the next 3 weeks in the studio? Or should I paint outside consistently, little and often, throughout my time. I like the idea of going out a little everyday. Perhaps I try and do one outdoor piece everyday day – even on weekends! That could range from a big painting to a small drawing, as long as I am outside recording something.

By using a range of mediums I can compare mediums and surfaces, ask questions questions like: Is a drawing better than a painting? Or vice versa. When I was drawing in oil pastels on Scilly I got a kind of transparency to plein air works that I had never captured before. To get that in paint I would need to use acrylics and quick drying glazing medium, and that would still have a kind of clean-ness and forgiving-ness which drawing doesn’t have (I can’t cover up marks in oil pastel whilst I can in paint).

One thing I’ve never tried is painting outside on unstretched canvas. There are artists I admire that do this, maybe I’ll do a blogpost about them soon! Unstretched canvas gets messy and affected by the environment. The texture of the ground beneath effects the marks I’m making, it feels far more organic. I could even dip the fabric in water or rub it in the sand or crazy things like that! And of course if I am walking a long way with the painting, it is far easier to be able to roll it up than carry it.

This could work really well for drawings I do that map the coastline. Perhaps I could take one big piece of canvas and stop on sections of a big walk. Perhaps this painting would be a patchwork, a map like painting. Could I then return to the studio and work on the same painting? Or this becomes a finished thing in its own right? Or reference for a new painting in the studio? I do love the idea of recording a walk with a large piece of canvas. I love that!!!

Can I just rely on memories? I could try and do some painting just from memory, no working outside, and see how that goes, alongside working from plein air studies? Although I don’t want to give myself too much to do. I can do this kind of thing if it feels right.


I will go outside everyday I am in St. Ives to make at least one drawing/painting. I am doing this to experiment with lots of different methods for recording my experiences.

I will write about my experiences during the residency, asking myself the questions listed above as prompts. I am doing this to help myself understand my experiences and be present with what is. I will aim to write every few days or when I feel like it.

I will bring wips with me to continue working on in St Ives, and that work means I can be working straight away. When I was in London I found that not bringing any wips with me meant the first week I felt a bit lost, because I was starting from the ground again. Now I think there’s no harm, even perhaps benefits, to combining wips and new place-based work. What could happen?

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