Lesley Birch Artist Blog

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

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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?

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I love the Lakes


A week of exhilerating peace and quiet in August was my joy in the Lake District.  A bit of walking and sketching – nothing too demanding meant I was able to recharge my batteries.  What scenery.  What changeable weather.  How beautiful.


Sketching by Crummockwater


A dramatic light looking towards Grasmoor and Crummockwater.  The little boathouse shines as a bright beacon of orange and a slab of blue lake.


A walk in the Wood and lush green


rough sketching – food for art



My Woodland-Inspired Oil Paintings paired with lovely ceramic by Beth Sev at Silson Contemporary Gallery in Harrogate.

Fav Place in the Lakes:  Crummockwater and the walk to the lake and through the wood.

Fav Peak:  Melbreak

Fav Pub:  The Kirkstile Inn – beautiful food, lovely fires and views.

Do you have a favourite place in the Lakes? I’d love to hear.










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Me, Dad and Tweedmouth

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 11.46.54My art has reached Tweedmouth.  And my dad is on my mind.  Tweedmouth was one of Dad’s favourite places.  He loved boats and he fished for salmon in the Tweed, amongst other rivers, too many to mention.  Dad was a Royal Marine and later became an architect. His final days were spent in Eyemouth, near the harbour which he loved.  Dad (Chuck) was a Glaswegian with a guitar-playing and singing talent, mostly Country Western songs.  His drawings and paintings were immaculate – in watercolour – with an eye for colour and detail.


Charles Robertson – Royal Marine

When Mary, gallery owner of Dockside Gallery contacted me, I was delighted to say yes and show my paintings there.  Oh,  I so wish Dad were alive now to spend time with me there, talk about art, paintings, music and architecture.

If you visit Berwick-Upon-Tweed, then walk the Lowry Trail.  I did this a few years back with my son.  And there’s the Holy Isle to visit too.  Anyway, Dockside Gallery is between locations 12 and 13 on the Lowry Trail – on the way to Spittal Beach and Promenade.  Dockside Gallery, 84 Main Street, Tweedmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, TD15 2AA – tel: 01289 302437 — Visit Dockside Gallery on Facebook

A Shimmering Wind & Sky Day

A Shimmering Wind & Sky Day – showing at Dockside Gallery, Tweedmouth






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I painted these  pieces especially for the Lifelines exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills Gallery in Leeds.  The show starts on 19th May to 2nd July 2017.
I began with sketches at Sandsend Beach on the Yorkshire coast – a favourite place of mine –  and completed the pieces in my studio in York.  For me, it’s all about the mark-making with a tension between opaque and transparent paint.

A short film of the creation of these paintings  –  by Emilie Flower of PICA Studios, York –  is available to view by clicking on the picture below:

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Lifelines – paintings and ceramics – responses to the natural world – a group show with Kate Kenney, Lesley Seeger, Katie Braida

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Bodies of Work


The Centre of Things – Oil – 17 x 15 cms – Stories of Land & Earth Series

In my art practice, I work on several bodies of work all at the same time over periods of years. There are no rules, really.  An artist simply has to follow her own path. Some folks think that there is focus in staying on the same thing and this is of paramount importance.  But, for me, I move – flitting between mediums and inspiration – and yet the work still develops.   And I still feel I’m pushing on.  If I spend too long on something and force the painting, it doesn’t happen.  And so moving between bodies of work helps the painting to evolve, appear and speak back to me.  And I begin to see a thread through ALL the work …

So what are my different bodies of work?

Well, firstly there is my Stories of Land & Earth Series which began around three years ago – mainly using oil and cold wax.


The Moment you Know – Oil Painting – 43 x 43 cms Stories of Land & Earth Series ©Lesley Birch 2017

These pieces relate to my family and mainly my Dad.  He had a boat on Loch Lomond which he refurbished in a huge shed on the Island of Inchmurrin.  I like the idea of his soul resurfacing into life through the marks I make and the colours I use. The pieces are my emotional connection to him, the past, Loch Lomond – they are all about ‘feeling’.


The Place Within – Oil – 43 x 43 cms –  Stories of Land & Earth Series ©Lesley Birch 2016 – ‘Ladybird’ the name of Dad’s boat is scratched in – text is beginning to appear more often in my work

Since I moved to PICA STUDIOS, these Stories pieces have appeared more often and so I’m just following this.  They are not large paintings – some 12 x 10 ins and some 14 x 14 ins.  It doesn’t feel right for these ones to be big …. that’s the way of it.  A number of my Stories of Land & Earth Paintings can be seen and are for sale at Carina Haslam Fine Art, Buckinghamshire.

You can also see more of these on my website – Stories of Land & Earth Paintings


The second body of work relates to my residency in Corris, North Wales, where the surrounding forests and waterfalls blew me away.  It led me to a big play with greens – a colour I don’t normally like to use.


Forest Green – in the Studio – layers

As the series progressed, I began to move into deeper blues and indigos, layering more and more paint and cutting in pathways, lines, limbs.  I was painting more and more from memory and as interested in the medium of paint as I was in the subject.

FIND OUT MORE ON MY CORRIS EXPERIENCE HERE: The Presence of Trees and here Into the Woods I go


The Blue Rustling Wood – 20 x 20 cms ©Lesley Birch 2017

The third body of work comes from my experiences of coasts around Scotland and, more recently, Cornwall where land, sea and sky are my themes.  But I like to play with colour, imbuing the paintings with a sense of the moment in time.  Some coastal work relates to Flamborough and Sandsend in Yorkshire where I live.  These pieces are becoming more abstract – particularly the mixed media sketches, which are, in themselves, really small paintings.  More of them on another blog.

Of course, the support used and the media used all affect the look of the painting – so my decision-making here is in amongst all these thoughts too …  Paper? Printmaking? Board? Canvas? Aluminium? Oil? Acrylic? – It’s all there and sometimes I just grab whatever is to hand in the studio – the intuitive element is a big part of my painting life.

So when does a body of work end?  That is the question.

I supppose, it ends when it has run its course and I have nothing more to say. Or it ends, when I decide to make myself stop.  My Figures in Time work may well be a case in point here, though there are still a few appearing in my home studio – wistful landscapes with a girl (is it me?) somewhere in time.


The Blue Dress – Oil – Figures in Time Series

And, in between all that, I have my printmaking and my sketchbooking, which feeds into my practice, allowing me to develop my observational skills and simply enjoy the process of drawing.


NEXT EXHIBITION:  at Silson Contemporary Fine Art – Spring into Summer Exhibition Lesley will be showing pieces from her Corris Collection



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A Mural in the Loo at PICA

After an 11-hour drive back from Cornwall last week,  it’s Open Studios time here in York and I’m busy again –  and excited to be showing paintings in situ in my studio space at PICA.  You can see our new mural in the loo and view the other studios in the space – Evie Leach Jewellery, Rebecca Carr Bespoke Clothing and Emily Stubbs Ceramics.

YORK OPEN STUDIOS IS OPEN THIS WEEKEND on Friday 21st April, 6pm – 9pm – Saturday April 22nd, 10am – 6pm; Sunday April 23rd, 11am – 5pm.


There’s also a wee series of films made by Emilie Flower – a PICA member – little sketches of artists in our space … Do check out ….   Generally, I’m talking about how I ‘play’ in the studio before beginning work on bigger paintings …



Rolling in the Downs, painting on show at York Open Studios 2017 – VENUE 41 Pica Studios, 7a Grape Lane, York YO1 7DL


PICA Studios – VENUE 41 – 7a Grape Lane, York YO1 7DL