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Monday, 27 June 2011

Surrey Studio Spy

Last weekend various Surrey artists threw open their studios and invited whoever felt so inclined in to see their work. So off we went to exotic Dockenfield.

What we found was an idyllic country cottage, surrounded by a wonderful garden, bustling with flowers, grasses and vegetable patches. The whole place had a wonderful bohemian feel: loved and maintained, but not obsessively groomed. Woven willow play-houses nestled on the lawn like pixie houses.

On entering the cottage, we were greeted by Judith, creator of the play-houses. She told us that currently there were four artists in the building including herself. We could find an oil-painter in the living-room, a printmaker in the conservatory and a knitter/yarn-dyer upstairs.

It was all a bit like a children's book: 'Oh, look who's in the living room! It's Ruth working on one of her impressionistic landscapes!' Ok, so maybe not a *conventional* children's book.. Anyway, we did indeed find Ruth working away on one of her heath and hills landscapes, using a comb to add texture and the impression of grasses blowing in the wind. Finished paintings hung around the room, and although not all were my cup of tea, many had amazing depth and you could almost see the movement of the grasses and the shadows of clouds moving across the land.

Next we visited Shirley Ann who was busy gouging lino in the conservatory. She told us all about various print methods, how best to line up multiple prints and even how an old metal tobacco box is a viable tool of the trade. Some very charming prints, ranging from Inca-style to African.

Time to venture upstairs. First we took in the view of the enviable veggie garden:

No doubt the 'heads' were made by an artist friend, if not by the owner of the house herself who we were hoping to meet next.

Sadly the knitting and dying lady herself (Alison) was away at a wedding for the day, but we were still welcome to nosey around her studio which was attended by a lady friend of her's who reminded me very much of the White Rabbit in 'Alice in Wonderland'. Very lovely, but ever so slightly bumbling and self-depricating in that uniquely endearing English way.

The studio itself was very much a working space, with yarn, tools and dyes covering every surface while a no-nonsense enamel sink crouched against one wall.

Of course I was instantly jealous of the space. Imagine having a dedicated place to make a mess and *not have to clean it all up straight away*! Amazing. Also, who wouldn't want to sit here to work on projects and enjoy the view:

A side room showcased Alison's (apparently quite famous) hand-knitted items.

The knitting techniques were indeed impressive, although the finished items were pretty, um, 'statement making'. Actually there were a couple of hemp ones which were a little more discreet.

Finally we were shown a little willow-weaving action:

Apparently it's possible to plant the vertical branches into the ground and have them continue to grow so that after a while you will get a living and leafy play-house. Very cool indeed, although apparently it takes a lot of maintenance.

The things one finds in the British countryside! I really enjoyed this rather bohemian set-up, surrounded by leafy greenness. Best wishes to all the arty ladies and thanks for their generosity in explaining their techniques and their infectious passion for their work. Maybe we'll see some of them at one of the events at Farnham Maltings soon.

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