Lesley Birch Artist Blog

musings of an artist's life in the studio, on the move, in progress

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A painting trip to the Isle of Islay in February 2018 has sparked off inspiration for me.  A 12-hour journey from York with my artist mate, Jill Ogilvie was the start of our adventure.


Sanaigmore, Islay – so inspiring

I filled a sketchbook and planned some new paintings …

When the weather was really bad, we painted in our studio space …



Second Kintra Walk – ‘where sea and sky merge’  – It was very grey that day, with expanses of roaring whiteness – sea and sky merged.”


Back in York in my studio I began a  whole series of monoprints  inspired by Islay.



Some of these prints will be on the PICA Studios Stand at The Hepworth Print Fair – on the weekend of March 23-25, 10am – 5pm


inspired by Mull of Oa – so green, boggy and such a strong gale

The visit to Islay was organised by my Scottish friend Jill Ogilvie, an artist currently based in Cambridge …  a lot of walking, talking and reflection  … what a trip!



The Power of Sketching


This weekend I had a full day’s drawing and painting session with Donderdag Collective life drawing group in York – a whole Saturday with one brilliant model and for most of the day, one long pose.

Sketchbooking is integral to my practice.  I can draw and paint intuitively, reaching for seemingly random materials in my toolbox and responding spontaneously to my subject.

I had decided that I’d fill up a whole sketchbook (or two) and simply concentrate on simplifying my process.


Starting with short 1 to 2 minute poses is a good way to warm up.

reaching, lifedrawing

Drawing quickly and spontaneously in charcoal – line of body and shape of hair


This time using a Posca Pen, a contour drawing – without lifting the pen off the paper and without looking at the paper – gazing only at the subject

An Exercise

I chose to start with an exercise from the artistic mind of the inimitable EMILY BALL, teacher and artist, based at Seawhite Studios.

The exercise concentrates on shape and line initially and then introducing detail.  I moved through my sketchbooks picking up lines, curves, tones and shapes from the model.  I wasn’t aiming particularly for a literal result, just a chance to work on my hand/eye co-ordination.


moving between line and form – using Posca Pens, gouache and watercolour

Later on, I get into a sort of zone and I find myself grabbing at paints and other media, mixing colour intuitively – moving between line and form – and also moving between sketchbook pages, adding and taking away detail.  Motifs appear and I keep repeating them throughout the sketchbook.  I keep looking out for what interests me … the sketches speak back to me.  It’s not about being precious, just enjoying the process and letting go …



I can be a minimalist in my sketchbook


And on other pages, I choose to build up layers and highlight shapes which interest me


playing with graphite, watercolour and ink – leaving space

Two Sketchbooks on the Go

I’m using TWO sketchbooks – one a 12 x 9 ins and the other a smaller a moleskin 9 x 5 ins.  When one is drying, I’m working on the other.


The larger sketchbook – sometimes I work on both pages


And sometimes the pages print themselves!


I love going across both pages in this smaller book – the paper is sturdy

Colour of the Day

Often, during these sessions, one particular colour surfaces regularly throughout the day.  My favourite colour of the day is Cadmium Orange – lovely, yellowy, strong pigments by Aquarelle.  My tool box (on the left – see below) is full of stuff from Posca Pens to acrylics to gouache to whatever.


Sketching Landscape

My next post will about my New Year’s Sketching week in Pittenweem on the Scottish East Neuk Coast.

Towards Studio Paintings

For me, this fast, sketching process is an exercise in developing my observational skills and my drawing and painting practice.  I find that the marks and decisions I make in the sketches will later inform larger studio paintings.  The results will not be an exact copy of a sketch, but the marks will be me, my identity, my expression.  And that’s what’s important.

Do you enjoy sketching?  What do you like to use?  Do the pieces feed into bigger and better paintings?  Or are you just exploring?

OTHER BLOG POSTS about my sketching here ….

Using Sketchbooks in my Art Practice

Sketching at Flamborough

My Sketchbook Bag

Sketching on the Move



Sketching outside in the Lakes – at Crummockwater 2017

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I share a studio in York City Centre with lots of other artists, makers and designers. I also have a larger garden studio at home.  But PICA, for me, is where it’s at.  Although I can only produce small paintings there, I just love it.  PICA is an inspiring place for collaboration, communication and support in my creative process.  Plus, there is always a nice cup of coffee and pastry from the nearby market place.

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The Writers, at PICA  Caleb Klaces and Daisy Hildyard

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Emily Stubbs Ceramics at PICA

PICA Studios will soon be a year old … we pulled it all together in January 2017 – a core group of us — and we are still here and more of us …

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PICA Studios were mentioned in The Guardian Alternative Travel Guide to York as one of the many great arty places in York.  We have an open day on Sat Dec 9th 10am – 6pm.

And we’ll be opening as part of York Open Studios in April.

PICA 7a Grape Lane, York YO1 7HU




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Visiting Artist Studio of HO


Mark, 2016 ©Humphrey Ocean

This week I had the pleasure and the privilege of a visit to the studio of Royal Academician Humphrey Ocean, otherwise known as HO.  The experience was organised by The Friends of the RA – very well organised and very enjoyable.

So I took a train all the way from York to London specially for this 2pm – 4pm experience – well worth it.

What can I say?

FullSizeRender-4HO greeted us individually as we entered this huge warehouse-like space hidden away on the outskirts of South London and my eyes took in his familiar muted canvases around the space.  I didn’t take photographs – not allowed, of course – out of respect for this private space.

His interest in all things vehicle/transport/functional – ships, planes, cars, chairs – is evident in the work which is expressed in beautiful abstracted forms in opaque paint. And there’s wonderful, bespoke storage, an old press, book cases – everything looks fairly ordered. And loved. He picks up a recent woodcut with intense care and talks about his love of the colour black.

But really, for me,  the portraits are the thing.  I had seen an exhibition of them in 2013 at London’s National Gallery and marvelled at their seeming simplicity.  Created in only an hour of folks who have visited his studio, HO makes these wonderful pieces in gouache on lovely 70 x 50 cms thick paper.  He captures the body language of the sitter and his love of a chair which props them up and affects their stance.


Tim, 2010 ©Humphrey Ocean

In the upstairs ‘attic’ area of the studio, we were treated to tea and chocolate biscuits (generously handed around by HO himself) and I spotted hundreds of perfectly sharpened pencils arranged in mugs on a window ledge.  On the floor, white plates with dabs of muted gouache colour tones – deep reds, ochre yellows and that deep dove grey which is a trademark – the colours of the portraits.

HO was easily approachable to each of us and he talked passionately about his work – from woodcuts echoing Munch’s techniques to wooden and metalic sculptures inspired by ships, cars and planes.  HO is Professor of Perspective at the RA and a ‘Constable Man’.   And he knows where everything is in his studio — at a moment’s notice able to lay his hands on a 1971 life drawing done at art school.  I loved the background music playing – seemed African, then moved into some sort of rock, descending chords with a rough male vocal over the top – I always notice music, anyway. I knew he had played in a band – Kilburn and the High Roads.  But I didn’t know he’d been in this band with Ian Dury (I’m a fan) who had also been his hugely inspiring tutor at art school.

HO is of OUR era.  He is in the NOW.  And hundreds of years ahead, we can look back at this interpretation of our world now – the cruise liners, the cars, the technology which shapes our lives.  And the people in the portraits. In a chair.



Have YOU visited any studios?  I’d love to hear your impressions …



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Why Exhibit?

Would you paint if no one were to see your work?

I think I would, but I’m compelled to exhibit my paintings – get them out on the walls – for people to see and mainly for me to see!  I want to show my paintings and in essence, tell my story …

Why?  Coz I’m an egotist? Insecure? Seeking Approval?  Maybe, all of these.  Is it worth it though?

Yes, it is.

Exhibiting is hard work, but essentially rewarding.  To see my paintings up on the walls is a great thrill – it’s the culmination of plein air and studio time manipulating paint and making decisions.


At the moment, I have my third solo show since 2007.  Titled ‘Ethereal Moments’  the exhibition runs at Scampston Hall in Yorkshire until October 29th, 2017.



The Journey – on show at Scampston Hall, Yorkshire

For this particular show, I hung the paintings myself –  moving a huge ladder – wish I’d taken a photo to show you! –  and climbing up and down, getting hands covered in dirt.  Then having to clean the painting frames. The hard bit was the heavier paintings trying to get them to grip onto the hanging system.  I quite enjoyed myself and had full control of ‘the hang’ as arty folks call it.  At 58, my joints, though,  are a bit stiff and a slight turn or move can cause my back to ‘give’.  I was lucky this time – no injuries – and a gorgeous time spent strolling  in Scampston Hall’s stunning walled garden, enjoying their famous prairie grasses and conservatory – I really must teach a workshop there!


But now I’m just a little bit knXXXXXed!

In this exhibition, I’m showing some of my  figurative paintings – young women on Scottish beaches – remnants of my past times at Carradale and St Andrews as a child. It’s lovely to see them together.


And I’m also showing  landscape pieces.



A few days after a shower and a sleep – opening the show



‘Space & Water’ – my oil painting is on show at Scampston Hall

‘Ethereal Moments’ – Lesley Birch Paintings runs until October 29th 2017 at Scampston Hall, Malton, Yorkshire.  Open Daily 10am – 5pm (Closed Mondays)  More details are on www.lesleybirchart.com



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My Next Blog will be about The Business of Sketchbooking … Back in the Studio thank goodness!

Do you exhibit regularly?  Do you care about showing your work?  Do you visit Exhibitions often?