Beyond the curtains

Levitated solar etching by Debbie Lee

Levitated solar etching by Debbie Lee

I encountered Debbie Lee’s extraordinary solar etchings, paintings and prints at the RWA Galleries in Bristol. Taking up almost a full wall in the downstairs gallery, it felt a little like having drawn aside a heavy velvet curtain and discovered a wonderful circus of the shadows taking place.

“I’m a visual artist based in Dorset, and work in paint, print and animation,” Debbie explained when I got in touch to find out more. “In recent years I’ve made a series of mini etchings which have been exhibited around the UK and in France and Spain. They explore themes of magic and illusion.”

Hypnotist by Debbie Lee

Hypnotist by Debbie Lee

Debbie has linked the artworks together using an imagined narrative and bound them into a limited edition artist’s book entitled ‘Tread Softly’. “I like the containment that a book offers and the intimacy of studying each illustration secretly. I’ve made larger paintings of these miniatures and I hope to exhibit the prints, paintings and book together.”

Tread Softly artist's book by Debbie Lee

Tread Softly artist’s book by Debbie Lee

Debbie often works in print, and enjoys the social aspect of the print studio. “I sometimes invite other artists to my studio to print and share ideas while we work side by side,” she comments. “I have always made prints alongside my paintings and have visited many print studios during my travels to India as a commonwealth research scholar, as well as in Chicago and Tasmania. When I first moved to Dorset with young children, I found going to Poole print studio a great way to meet local artists and I have been teaching solar etching there for a number of years.”

Find out more about solar etching.

Debbie draws inspiration from “surrealism, outsider art and philosophy, psychological theories and fairytales. I like to paint on coloured Indian khadi paper. I am interested in the different process of working in miniature and large scale pictures. Sometimes I take a part of a miniature Indian painting and magnify it so that the brush strokes are physically present and the shapes become abstracted.”

Previously, Debbie worked as an art therapist with children, and still values this process in the work she makes today. “I will often start a number of pictures simultaneously, sometimes with my daughter making random marks on the paper, and exchanging the pictures between us working with large brushes and sponges which I later develop in my studio. I like the idea of developing attachment through drawing and painting with my daughter during this process.”

Debbie has also found support though joining creative parent projects. “We work together and encourage each other to retain our artistic practice,” she says. “Resources like this provide an archive of material for new creative parents to draw upon and a platform for parent artists to show artwork. Last year I was asked to contribute a creative piece of writing in celebration of grand mothering.”

Sadness by Debbie Lee

Sadness by Debbie Lee

In 2016 Debbie teamed up with other artists to experience collaborative ‘play’ on a massive scale at the Hansard Gallery in Southampton. “This has led to further collaborations with group members,” she enthuses. “Ideas from this experience evolved into a series of images offering a psychological inspection of women caught behind the scenes.”

Whispered by Debbie Lee

Whispered by Debbie Lee

The body of work they produced was also influenced by the novella The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, one of my personal unsettling favourites. “It charts the female protagonist’s attempts to manage altered mental states after childbirth,” Debbie says. “Isolated by her physician and husband and told to ‘rest’ her creativity, she hallucinates disturbing figures in wallpaper patterns.”

The series of artworks produced in response to the novella also ties in with the phenomenon of pareidolia, an intriguing topic that formed the basis of one of my recent writing prompts on SkyLightRain. “I projected wallpaper and invited the group to draw out images from the patterns and made a stop motion film of the process which inspired future paintings,” Debbie says.

Drawn Curtain still image by Debbie Lee

Drawn Curtain still image by Debbie Lee

Exploratory play is key to Debbie’s imaginative process. “I like to experiment with animated drawings – drawing over one drawing and erasing it over and over to create the sense of movement,” she says. “I find this a satisfying way to bring memories to life using collected sound tracks and images. It has also been a good way to take my work to a wider audience and this year I have had my animations, including Drawn Curtains, screened in Chicago and at the RWA.”

These processes provide a foundation for Debbie’s larger paintings. “For me these are windows to my imagination (Sadness),” she says. “I enjoy the physical activity of working on a large scale and I enjoy the playful processes I go through to create them. I try to create a believable world from my imagination.”

You can see more of Debbie’s work and find out where she’s exhibiting on her website

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley(at)



Shades of thought

Feature of Landscape1 by Clare Thatcher

Feature of Landscape1 by Clare Thatcher

The concept of painted landscape representing human emotions is intensely appealing to me. Stormy skies, wind-lashed fields and scenes verging on abstraction can all evoke a state of mind.

It’s a school of thought artist Clare Thatcher is fully enrolled in with her dark, contemplative layers of oil paint applied to linen or plywood.

Formation by Clare Thatcher

Formation by Clare Thatcher

“I’m a Contemporary British artist based in Bristol with a passion for painting,” Clare says. “I attended University of West of England from 2011 till 2014 graduating with a First Class BA Honours Degree in Drawing & Applied Arts, and then gained a MA Fine Art at Bath Spa University. Since graduating I’ve exhibited in London, Belgium, Nottingham, Bristol & Bath.”

It’s the psychological impression of a setting that she aims to capture in her paintings. “My work is deeply connected with a sense of place, taking influence from the idea of liminal space in landscape,” she says. “The locations I choose and the focus of my attention is highly selective, personal and resonant of individual landscape features and associated thoughts, emotions and reflections. The emphasis is upon the sense of contemplation within place.” Continue reading

RWA Annual Open Exhibition

RWA Open Exhibition 163

RWA © Alice Hendy

The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol is currently preparing one of my favourite cultural events (Ta very much!) – the RWA Annual Open Exhibition.

Submissions are open until Monday 21st August at 5pm, so if you get a wriggle on you still have a chance of being part of it!

The exhibition will be open to the public from Sunday 1 October to Sunday 3 December 2017. Artists of all ages and experience are invited to submit.

Now in its 165th year, the exhibition is open to anyone with something to show, regardless of experience level and discipline choice. Last year 593 works by 387 artists made it into the final exhibition, which was a truly outstanding showcase of talent.


All applicants must apply online, submitting images using the new Online Exhibition Submission System (OESS).

Points to remember:

  • Submissions must be no more than three years old and must be for sale
  • A maximum of 3 works may be submitted per applicant (4 for Academicians)
  • Work cannot have been exhibited before at the RWA
  • All entries are subject to selection and a submission fee per work for entry applies

Find full details here: Good luck!

Breath after breath

Waterclour by Liz Butler RWS

Watercolour by Liz Butler RWS

If you visited RWA’s exhibition of The Power of the Sea in 2014, you’ll know how excellent their taste is in choosing works preoccupied solely with one particular element of nature.

This time around the remit was to seek out pieces that scrutinise a more intangible aspect of our surroundings – the very stuff we live in and breathe.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

More than one artist on show creates a sense of substance through the presence of a balloon or several; for others, such as Jemma Grunion and her scattering of oils and resins layered on board, it’s the clouds that transform the unseen into the visible.

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and orbs by Polly Gould

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and sculptures by Polly Gould. Image by Alice Hendy.

You’ll see sculptures representing curls of sky and swooping birds, anamorphic landscapes by Polly Gould, clouds created on tracing paper through the art of rubbing out, a glass trombone and an avian flu molecule. There’s even a depiction by L.S. Lowry of early 20th century air pollution – it’s clear that air resonates with countless possible interpretations – from freedom to sound.

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

The exhibition itself is beautifully laid out, allowing space to meander and contemplate as light streams in through the main galleries’ lovely and very appropriate skylights. Through four centuries of work, there’s an overriding sense of humanity marvelling at the things that soar so high above us, and of the desire to enter, investigate and conquer this nebulous territory. Artworks focused on flight abound, and a colourful windbreak made from shredded plastic by artist Freya Gabie wafts gently in the breeze.

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Other works offer an altogether more intimate examination of our relationship with air, not least in Capacity by Annie Cattrall, made in part using exhalations of human breath. Just knowing that gives me delighted chills.

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

For me, the sky has always seemed to be our very best art gallery, offering up colour studies, sunset silks and endlessly reconfigured sculptures.

To host an exhibition concentrated on this extraordinary theatre of the atmosphere is an act of audacity that I applaud.

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

As an added bonus, you’ll find Arctic Air, an exhibition by Janette Kerr PPRWA RSA (Hons), made in response to three weeks on a ship sailing up the coast of Svalbard, Norway. The works are compressed with layers of wonder, representing Janette’s awe at encountering icebergs and glaciers, and thinking of “the hundreds, even thousand, of years locked inside, suspended in tiny air bubbles.”

Ancient Air by Jeannette Kerr

Ancient Air by Janette Kerr

Just like the exhibition in the upstairs galleries, this is a contemplation of a part of our planet so otherworldly that it almost feels off-world…

And yet this element is what enters our body and fuels all our vital internal churnings. Without it we could not exist, let alone create and appreciate art.

Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art 1768-2017 is on at RWA in Bristol until 3rd September 2017. Find details at All images in this post have been supplied by RWA.

Art review – Drawn 2017

Ghost Nets of Hallsands (iii) by Frances Gynn, ink, crayon and charcoal_£2000

Ghost Nets of Hallsands (iii) by Frances Gynn, ink, crayon and charcoal

The Royal West of England Academy‘s biannual exhibition Drawn has returned, with a wealth of works that reveal the powerful possibilities offered by ink, pencil, paint and thread and more.

“Drawing is a means of communication and interpretation; it is a building block of creativity and a fundamental part of the creative process,” says  Gemma Brace, Head of Exhibitions.

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell, pen on cork_£350

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell, pen on cork

The variety of mediums was exceptional, including a selection of atmospheric etchings by invited artist Norman Ackroyd RA. My favourites among the others include Rebecca Swindell’s ink drawings on corks (shown above), titled Eighteen Occasions, Yurim Gough’s Shopaholic on ceramic, and Belinda Durrant’s corset titled Gilded Cage.

Terrain by Dail Behennah, paper and graphite_£3000

Terrain by Dail Behennah, paper and graphite

Dail Behennah’s elegant executed Terrain is a three-dimensional geometric landscape that drew me to my knees for an almost immersive view. In other cases, a few swipes with a stick of charcoal conjure an arresting portrait, while skilled artists such as Kevin Line capture scenes of uncanny realism with the same humble medium.

Bowed to the Wheel by Kevin Line

Bowed to the Wheel (cropped) by Kevin Line

In the adjoining gallery, dim-lighting and a sense of seclusion offers the backdrop to Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection, a selection of works lent by Her Majesty The Queen.

Guercino, Detail from A Landscape with a three-arched bridge over a river, c.1625, Pen and ink (RCIN 902717), Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Guercino, Detail from A Landscape with a three-arched bridge over a river, c.1625, Pen and ink (RCIN 902717), Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Next door you’ll see examples plucked from the RWA’s own extensive collection for Beyond The Sketchpad, before emerging into the Drawing Lab with the option to create your own work.

In the speeches at the preview, Peter Randall-Page RA RWA swept us away with a reminder of all the ways in which the term drawn can be used: how we can draw curtains; draw people together; draw water from a well; draw swords; be drawn and quartered,  among others.

Even in language, it’s clear that drawing opens up a multitude of possibilities, but in this case it’s the paintings, etchings, sculptures and otherwise realised works that stopped me in my tracks.

The Hounds by Abigail Reed, Charcoal on paper_£950

The Hounds by Abigail Reed, charcoal on paper

Drawn and its accompanying exhibitions are on at the RWA until 4th June 2017.

To submit or suggest an art review, please send an email to Judy(at)

A creative voyage

Clipper by Judy DarleyI’ve just come to the end of an art course at the RWA in Bristol, and am already missing it immensely. The course, Illustration for Picture Books with Sam Church, offered the rare treat of devoting three hours each week for five weeks to playing with ink, paint, pencil and words.

We were each invited to devise or find a story or poem to illustrate. As you might imagine, I went in fully equipped with that side of things, keen to bring one of my short stories to life in new, visual ways.

It was energising to be in a room full of people who have such artistic talent. While I enjoyed figuring out perspective and thrilling with the success of painting a scene that made sense to me, there was just as much pleasure to be had in wandering the room at the end and seeing what my fellow students had been working on throughout the morning. Some produced works of utter beauty!

Boy and merhag by Judy Darley

For me, the biggest challenge was drawing and painting the face of my protagonist, and I’m still not satisfied with that. I think I need to try cartooning to get the character from my head to the page. It was magical, however, to discover I’m able to recreate some of the villains and accomplices from my tale, as well as the setting of the sea, sky and isle.

Evil crab by Judy Darley

The best part, however, was the chance to devote substantial chunks of time to exploring the artistic possibilities of my fiction under the gentle guidance of course leader Sam. It’s focused my growing passion for making as well as writing about art, and given me a new expressive outlet that fills me with joy.

Find upcoming RWA courses.

Submit your art to the RWA’s Drawn exhibition

Sea Mark silver, Tania Kovats, 2015, image courtesy of Sidney Cooper Gallery and RWAThe Royal West of England Academy in Bristol is currently preparing for their Biannual drawing exhibition Drawn. The show aims to “explore the boundaries of drawing and celebrate it as both an autonomous discipline and an interdisciplinary tool.”

The image above is from the 2015 exhibition, and shows Sea Mark (silver), by Tania Kovats, and is provided courtesy of Sidney Cooper Gallery and the RWA.

Entries are invited from artists who draw or explore the concept of drawing in their work. Submissions are open until 5pm on 15th March 2017, so if you still have a chance of being part of it.

As well as the opportunity to have your work showcased in the exhibition, prizes for Drawn include the following:

  • The Theresa Knowles Travel Bursary which offers a bursary of £1,500 to go to Italy to make new work.
  • The Student Prize – a month long exhibition at Hidden
  • Work on Paper Prize – £400 of printing and framing courtesy of Niche Frames.


All applicants must apply online, submitting images using the Online Exhibition Submission System.

Find full details here: Good luck!

Writing prompt – expectations

Grandmas Footsteps by Angela Lizon

Grandmas Footsteps by Angela Lizon

This eerie oil painting is Grandma’s Footsteps by Angela Lizon, and is one of my favourite artworks on show as part of the RWA exhibition Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter.

Resembling a black and white photo, it shows an obedient little girl apparently gazing at the camera with a worried expression on her face. And no wonder, because a vast grizzly bear lurks just behind her.

To me it encapsulates our parents’ and society’s expectations that we smile for the camera, regardless of what may be breathing down our neck.

This week, consider a situation where someone may be expected to act against their instincts. How might they respond? What might the outcome of their actions be?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on

Enter the mind of Angela Carter

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

Author Angela Carter put her own twist on many traditional fairytales, as well as dreaming up her own unsettling stories that hark from ancient fables. In celebration of her askew imagination, the RWA is hosting Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, an exhibition of artworks inspired by her writing, as well as original cover art from her novels and more.

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

Eerie, beautiful, thought-provoking and discombobulating, the pieces on show include Marc Chagall, Paula Rego and some truly luscious works by Leonora Carrington, as well as plenty of others that seem selected to haunt your dreams and stir your imagination.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts of UWE, and the artist and writer Fiona Robinson. Among my favourites were works by the wonderfully macabre Heather Nevey (below), and an understatedly unnerving oil painting titled Grandma’s Footsteps by Angela Lizon.

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

Other highlights include the chance to see Angela Carter’s photos, pens and other artefacts. For me the best part of all, and the most alarming, was stepping through a curtain into a gallery populated by strange figures with outlandishly large egg-like heads, seated around a table where a naked, terrified man lay prostrate – an installation by Ana Maria Pacheco titled The Banquet.

Wonderfully, while some of these works were inspired by Carter’s fiction, others, such as Chagall’s work, helped to fuel her creativity, while others still sprang from similar ideas, proving what a rich conversation visual and written works can enjoy.

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter is on at RWA, Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX until 19th March 2017.

Jamaican rhythms

II Treez in a Forest by Ebony G Patterson

II Treez in a Forest by Ebony G Patterson

Fancy feeling the heat this summer? Until 11th September 2016, Bristol’s RWA Galleries will be awash with Jamaican art, culture and politics thanks to a special exhibition.

Jamaican Pulse: Art and Politics from Jamaica and the Diaspora will showcase the diversity present in Jamaican art today and yesterday, with contemporary works exhibited alongside more historic pieces.

Artists featured include Ebony G Patterson, Andrea Chung, Kimani Beckford and Di-Andre Caprice Davis. Expect vivid colours amid works simmering with energy and emotion.

My Little Island V1 by Di-Andre Caprice Davis

My Little Island V1 by Di-Andre Caprice Davis

“While exploring the roots of modern Jamaican art and suggesting new links between past and present, the exhibition also explores the artwork through a political lens and considers how global attitudes to body, gender, religion, class and sexuality have impacted this small island nation.”

Find out more about the exhibition and connected happenings at