The Natural World Awakens
And sheep she found...
It’s the beginning of spring and the flowers and animals emerge from their winter hideouts and begin providing inspiration for artists who, still wrapping up warm, are off out and about the county, many sketching or painting on location en-plein air.
Nothing signals the beginning of spring like daffodils and crocuses pushing through the soil putting a vivid colour palette back into the countryside. And in the fields and farms the hare is up to his seasonal antics, popularised around the globe over the last 150 years as the mad March Hare in Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. He bounds, he leaps, he boxes, with the excited and unpredictable behaviour of the breeding season, and he inspires!
Kathy Webster is best known for her dotty dog portraiture but she can’t resist capturing the local hares she sees when she’s out in the countryside running or walking the dog, and while the ewes in the fields may not have the energy of their long-eared companions as they populate the green fields with gambolling new-born lambs. You can meet the first lambs of spring each year at The Earth Trust’s March lambing weekends in Little Wittenham, or Farmer Gow’s activity farm in Longcot.
In neighbouring Great Coxwell, artist Sam Thulin is known for her flamboyant scarves and colourful garb, and after a season at Westonbirt Arboretum where she painted striking bold landscapes capturing the colours of an Oxfordshire autumn, Sam donned her wellies to visit the farms of the Vale of White Horse in the hunt for sheep. And sheep she found.
Sam works from a combination of photos and sketches, and has a real passion for sitting in fields for hours at a time in her signature flyaway scarfs and bright and cheerful clothing, a flash of colour on the edges of fields in nearby Faringdon. ‘Sheep and lambs are far harder to capture on canvas than the countryside as landscapes don’t move, she laughs, and you have to be determined if you don’t want to paint just their bottoms! You’d be surprised how many farmer friends I’ve made recently as I stalk through their fields and lurk in hedgerows!’
‘I just love painting sheep,’ explains Sam. ‘We talk about behaving like sheep and it’s easy to assume they’re all just the same but if you actually stop and look they’re such individuals. They have such incredible character in their faces and you can see the whole gamut of human emotions and history even.’
And Sam’s sheep paintings are mainly close ups, a character study with a focus on faces, and in this ‘Rogues Gallery’ you can see the variety of sheep that roam the Oxfordshire fields. There’s one with an Elizbethan Ruff who is the spitting image of the Sir Walter Raleigh of my imagination, while another is undoubtedly Heathcliffe, who has stepped windswept and broody from Wuthering Heights.
The Cotswold sheep, now classified as a rare breed, and often referred to as the 'Cotswold Lion' was introduced to this country by the Romans and their long fine wool was renowned as the 'Golden Fleece', the raw material for the famous Witney Blankets and an important export that was important in the development of many Cotswold towns and villages in medieval times. Now, no longer of such economical importance, he seems very laidback, looking for all the world as if he would fit in better on a Caribbean island, his dreadlock fringe covering his eyes. In total contrast, and one for the for vampire fans among you, another picture shows a group of sheep with intense yellow eyes staring straight out of a misty backdrop, and I’m transported into the Twilight movies! ‘That’s the beauty of sheep, there are so many different breeds and they’re amazingly varied in look and size, pattern and texture. The Hebridean Sheep for example is very small with a dark stripy face – and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a touch of badger in their geneaology!’ Back in her light airy studio the sheep spill out into the kitchen and the hall. ‘My husband says that there are so many it’s a wonder he’s ever awake!’ she laughs. ‘Maybe I better paint cockerels next!’
And from mid-March our gardens will begin to ring with an increasing dawn chorus, and the robins and blackbirds begin to build their nests. One swallow may not make a summer, it’s a sure indication that spring is nigh! In March we expect to see many of the summer migrants return to the UK, after a journey that, for the swallows who winter in southern Africa for example, may have been as long as ten thousand miles.
Witney’s Andrew Forkner is a keen naturalist and has travelled widely here and abroad in search of wildlife and works in a variety of media, including graphite pencil, acrylics and pastel to complete his originals. He has particularly enjoyed his latest project, an A-Z of Bird Portraits in which he shares his tips about capturing birds on paper alongside striking and characterful pictures which look as if they could just take flight from the page at any moment. 'I have had a lifelong fascination for birds,’ he says, ‘and so when I began to draw during my time at primary school they were the obvious choice of subjects for my first artistic attempts. In the years since, I have had many encounters with these wonderful creatures in the wild and the urge to try to capture their delicacy and majesty in pencil or paint is stronger than ever.’
Sam Thulin’s paintings will be on show in Great Coxwell (venue 344) or visit her online.
Alex Crump’s Dawn Chorus and other work will be in The Eagle, Little Cowell near Faringdon during March.
For more on Andrew Forkner, see wildlife-artists.co.uk. Andrew is exhibiting in the Owen Mumford Gallery in Chipping Norton Theatre from 24 March-21 April and in Café Nero in Blackwell’s Bookshop on Oxford’s Broad Street (venue 204) for Oxfordshire Artweeks.
Oxfordshire Artweeks is a three week celebration of the visual arts with more than 400 open studios and exhibitions across Oxfordshire:
paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery, furniture, photography and more, sponsored by Hamptons International and The Oxford Times.
- Esther Lafferty, Festival Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks