Lesley Birch Artist Blog

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

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Sketching at Flamborough

flamboroughhead2Having been ill for about 5 weeks, I’m now back on track and heading out to the Yorkshire Coast for inspiration.  Flamborough Head is a wild and windy experience at this time of year – bracing and invigorating.  Just the ticket for a wee bit of fast sketching.  And a super cafe nearby for a scone and a cuppa.


breaking down shapes – sketch in watercolour and ink – 6 x 6 ins

I’ve always loved the work of Nicolas de Staël and his skill in abstraction.   I’m fascinated by his choice of colours and placement of shapes.  And I just love the thick paint.  Seems simple, but is not.  So I’m disciplining myself to break down the landscape more than usual and play with the shapes…  These sketches may well turn into paintings.  I shall have to see.


Nicolas de Staël – ‘Marine à Dieppe’ (1952), oil on canvas, 81 x 65 cms – I just love his composition and sense of colour


sketch in watercolour and ink – the little stack at Flamborough, 6 x 6 ins

The little stack at Flamborough reminds me of rock formations and stacks on my painting trips to Ireland and to Scotland.  The colour here in Yorkshire though is different and the feeling and atmosphere again, different.  In what way, I’m not sure.  Yet.  I’ll have to wait and absorb.

flamboroughheadFlamborough Head is a promontory, 8 miles long on the Yorkshire Coast of England, between Filey and Bridlington bays of the North Sea.  It is a chalk headland with sheer white cliffs.

Landscape Study 1952 by Nicolas de Stael 1914-1955

Nicolas de Staël – ‘Etude de Paysage’ (1952), oil on Millboard, 33 x 46 cms – simple and beautiful

More about Nicholas de Stael

Using Sketchbooks in my Art Practice

Sand, Grit & Cliffs at Staithes



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A Peek at Printmaking



Making prints runs alongside my painting practice.  I just love the painterly quality of monoprints – and that’s what I’ve been doing this week in the print room at The Arthouse in Wakefield

So what is a monoprint?  For those who don’t know here’s the definition:
noun: monoprint; plural noun: monoprints
  1. a single print taken from a design created in oil paint or printing ink on glass or metal.
I’m working small this week, playing with my ideas from my residency and memories of Inchmurrin Island on Loch Lomond where we went as kids most weekends.  All this work will feed into my painting practice.  And I’m planning to show new prints in an exhibition in the New Year …  at Kunsthuis Gallery in Yorkshire.


So above are pix of the printing ink, a roller a paintbrush and on the right my plate on which I’ve made a painting.

Pop through the press onto lovely Somerset Paper and hey presto:


Priest’s Cove, Cornwall


Inchmurrin Island, Loch Lomond

So who made monoprints in the past?  Well, Degas and Turner caught the bug and produced exquisite pieces.  So I’m in good company.


Degas – a master at the technique – FIND OUT MORE >>>

OK, so there’s a lot more to explain about monoprinting …. watch out for more on me blog posts!




an early print which won me a Highly Commended at The Harrogate Open many moons ago – ‘this quiet morning’ – monoprint with drypoint ©Lesley Birch 2008


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More Muted

As October moves into November here in Yorkshire,  I notice my colour choices becoming more muted, cooler and neutral.  The mood of the paintings is changing.


Winter is Arriving ,  28 x 18 cms, Oil on Arches Huile 300gsm ©LB 2016

I cannot help but be affected by the contrasting seasons here in Yorkshire.  The clocks have gone back an hour, evenings grow darker and as  I light my woodburner and write this blog, I contemplate the oncoming cold and feel like hibernating.  I even feel a wee bit poorly.  It’s time to s -l -o -w down.


up on Blakey Ridge, York Moors – late October

The paintings have lost their saturated colour from the summer months and the York Moors invite me to play with graphite mixed with water, light ochres and broad  brush strokes to express this changing landscape.  Even if I  TRY to return to the saturated bright colours from September,  I simply cannot.  I am compelled to ‘play’ down the tones.  In the studio I find myself enjoying an earthy palette of French Ultramarine  and Cobalt Blues,  Raw Siennas muted with Soft Whites and dipping into sparks of flesh pink from my Summer Palette.  Tomorrow I shall experiment with Prussian and Ceruleans and Burnt Sienna, but for today, this is enough.

Later on, fighting suffocating winds on the North York Moors, I am armed with my sketchbook.  These sessions prove fruitful even though the strong wind makes my brushes difficult to handle.  And I just love the dramatic skies with dark, charcoal clouds so low I feel I can almost speak to them as they rush past me in the roaring wind.  The air is fresh, invigorating.  And it’s feeling good.


Graphite & Wash – sketchbook on Blakey Ridge ©LB 2016


TIP:  I bought Art Graf from the Royal Academy of Arts Shop – in London – never looked back.  I just love it for plein air sketching.


From roaring wind to roaring fire – a The remote 16th Century Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge


Rain Coming In, Mixed Media on Canvas, 74 x 74 cms ©LB 2016

How do the seasons affect your painting?  Or are you immune?  Do your materials change as the seasons change? Do post your thoughts … I’d love to hear from you …


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New Studio – New Work

busytreepaintinginnewstudioA new studio space in July has changed my practice. The setting is utterly beautiful – an old schoolhouse owned by York Conservation Trust and 8 other artists working in pottery, homeware, ceramics, sculpting, collage, quilting, fashion, video, jewellery — all hugely inspirational and special.  We’re bouncing off each other no end.  Here are my artist colleagues.


We’re at ICE (Insitute for Cultural Experimentation) at The New Schoolhouse Gallery, Peaseholme Green, York City Centre, YO1 7PW.

Since I’ve been there it’s been full-on with my oil and cold wax painting – so busy and producing so much work inspired by my sketches made during my two residencies in Cornwall and in Wales.

priestscoveabstractWe’re open Fridays 12 – 4pm and Saturdays 12 – 4pm for the public to visit.  Oh and there are some special talks happening on Fridays too. Last week, we had the brilliant Kate Walters speaking about her emotional, mystical paintings revealing her thought processes and talking about her residency up in Orkney. Her love of words and her ability to totally ‘tune in’ to her artistic process was fascinating and of course, very inspiring.

For more details of some of the Talks in our Studio space visit:





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The Presence of Trees

darkanddeepeoodinsituThe woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost

Trees have been inspiring me for a long time – I’ve made collagraph prints and sketched them over the years,  but I’ve never wanted to make actual paintings until now.   I blogged about my recent art residency experience in Corris in Wales, where I found the forests so inviting and full of mystery.  Again, as always, I found the trees compelling, emanating a strange, timeless presence and watching over me as I stumbled through the woodland pathways  (stumbled, because of a bad foot, but that’s another story!)

And so …  this has produced a need in me to paint my response to the feeling of trees.



painting in my new studio space  –  #StudioICE, Peaseholme Green, York


The Rooky Wood, Oil/Cold Wax on Board, 30 x 30cms, ©Lesley Birch 2016

This journey of new oil paintings inspired by the living forest is an ongoing exploration for me.  As I paint, the works at times become more abstracted with hints of unnatural, vivid colour and at times moving away from the square format.    I just follow my intuition, using my sketches  and trying to re-enter the  feeling of the experience …


Through the Forest, Oil/Cold Wax on Board, 30 x 40cms, ©Lesley Birch 2016


Into the Blue Forest, Oil & Cold wax on Board, 30 x 30cms, ©Lesley Birch 2016

The Presence of Trees Collection – You can find out about the launch of this new collection HERE …

Residency – You can find out more about my residency in Corris HERE …


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New Art Book

I mentioned a while back that there’s a new, exciting ART TECHNIQUES BOOK out very soon  – all about painting using the medium of COLD WAX.  I’ve been painting with oil and cold wax for a couple of years now and I’m very proud and excited to be have my paintings in this special book written by American artists Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin.   The book shares techniques and ideas up to 100 artists around the world who, like me,  love to use the medium of cold wax.  Rebecca is an exceptional abstract painter and also a wonderful, generous tutor.  I’ve attended her courses in Ireland and in Italy.  It was in Italy I met Jerry, also an exceptional painter.  What laughs we had at Cascina Rodiani last year.

Anyway, I digress ….


find out more about the cold wax book …




Cascina Rodiani – Italy – the open air studio – painting with oil and cold wax – Course with Rebecca Crowell, August 2015

The Way through the Woodinsitu

A recent new painting using oil and cold wax ©Lesley Birch 2016


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Into the Woods I go …

The Way through the Wood

The Way through the Wood, Oil/Cold Wax, 7 x 7 inches ©Lesley Birch 2016

I’ve been painting on an artist residency in Corris, a small village within the Dyfi Forest in North Wales.  I stayed at a wonderful artist retreat called Stiwdio Maelor.

I’ve spent two weeks immersing myself in woodlands, slate, rivers, waterfalls, mountain paths and lush, wet greenness.  I never really like using green in my paintings, but somehow or other it came to life for me on this exploration.


Green Wood, Oil/Cold Wax on Board, 8 x 8 inches, ©Lesley Birch 2016

not too literal

Using oil and cold wax, I’ve begun a series of woodland pieces inspired by Corris – some on paper, some on board.  I’m not aiming to be too literal, just exploring shape and colour in these pieces.  In fact, it’s colour and shape creating atmosphere that are interesting me and a wee bit of poetry creeping in … Robert Frost, Andrew Marvell are hanging in my mind as I make my way exploring through paint.


Forest & Water, Oil on Arches Huile, 8 x 6 inches ©Lesley Birch 2016

not the first time trees have entered my work

This is not the first time trees have spoken to me –  a while back I made some collagraph and drypoint prints exploring the eeriness of the forest in the Lake District. And the tree outside my bedroom window always had a presence for me. In fact, I ALWAYS notice them and think I MUST go there …  I’ve rather a passion for stricken trees too – there’s something rather moving about them.  Anyway, I’m wondering if this is a theme which may ‘stick’ …


Corris, Trees – donated to Stiwdio Maelor –                  Oil/Cold Wax on Khadi Paper, A4, ©Lesley Birch 2016

so much to say …

There is so much more to say about this residency experience –  the development of my painting practice, the friendly and dynamic  Veronica Calarco, who founded the Stiwdio, the other artists and writers I met whilst there, pinhole photographer Wig Sayell, printmaker and painter from the USA Pamela Dodds, Artist/Curator Eilish Cullen – drinking lovely coffee at one of the top 50 cafes in Wales at Andy and Adam’s, a really enjoyable printmaking session at Aberystwyth Printmakers – the atmosphere of the village of Corris, The Centre of Alternative Technology, visiting nearby gallery of MOMA in Machynlleth ,  playing pool at The Slaters Arms next door, touring the surrounding lakes, waterfalls, coasts and hills, the folly which is The Italian Garden ….  I’ll post more soon …

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT ME AND MY WORK? Would you like to receive my newsletters …. news of exhibition updates, freebies, events, new paintings, open studios, courses ….YES I WOULD!!!

INTERESTED IN KNOWING MORE ABOUT COLD WAX? – then there’s a brand new book coming out in December 2016. Do you want to order a copy? …. YES PLEASE!