Getting creative at Art in Action

This weekend I spent a brilliant two days exploring Art in Action, an annual festival of art and crafts in the grounds of Waterperry House near Oxford. Artists were there demonstrating everything from oil painting and printmaking to pottery and metalwork – plus we signed up for a couple of practical classes to try our hand at some new skills for ourselves.

art in action at waterperry house oxford

We spent our first day exploring the artists’ work on show, in between ducking into patches of shade to escape the blistering heat. Here are just a few of my personal highlights…

sarah spackman

sarah spackman still life in oil

In the painting tent I fell in love with Sarah Spackman‘s subtle still lifes painted in oil on linen. It was fascinating to chat to her as she painted, mixing up beautifully chalky colours on her enormous palette. Her paintings would have been the perfect thing for the living room in my old flat!

ian phillips linocut

reduction linocut ian phillips

I was really taken with Ian Phillips‘s linocuts in the printmaking tent – lots of his work features the Welsh coast, which might explain why I liked them so much – there are lots of examples on his website. He uses a reduction technique, gradually cutting away areas of his drawing and printing each layer with a different colour of ink. He’s done a step-by-step linocut tutorial here so I’m going to give this a try sometime.

helen murgatroyd printmaker

Helen Murgatroyd printmaker

Another printmaker who caught my eye was newcomer Helen Murgatroyd, who had a selection of fruit and veg inspired linocuts and lithographs on display. Opposite, we were drawn to the whirr of Harriet Riddell‘s sewing machine and watched mesmerised as she machine-stitched portraits of visitors completely freehand in just 15 minutes.

stitched portraits harriett riddell

institchyou by harriet riddell

portrait sewn by harriett riddell

Mum and I decided we had to have a go and came away with a portrait apiece. If you fancy one too, Harriet sets up her machine in Greenwich market most weeks and you can even book her to perform at an event! I totally loved her… check out InStitchYou (geddit) for more.

On the second day we’d signed up for a couple of practical taster sessions (book them ahead if you go along next year because spaces fill up fast). First up, we had a go at sculpture, which I’ve never tried before. We headed into the tent and were faced with this lump of clay on a pole, which apparently we’d be turning into a sculpted clay head in just an hour and a half!

clay head sculpture

Needless to say I was pretty sceptical, but the tutor (from The Art Academy in London) showed us how to measure different parts of the model’s face and quickly build up the shape with clay. Halfway through, the cocktail stick markers made the whole thing look a bit like a very lumpy voodoo doll…

sculpting head from clay

Ninety minutes flew by in a flash and in no time we were desperately rolling eyeballs to try and finish our heads!

sculpting heads from clay art in action

art in action sculpting clay head

Ok, so I don’t have a photo of it next to the model, but even if there’s not much of a resemblance it at least looks like a person! I was amazed that for a group of beginners everyone managed to create something really impressive in such a short time. After lunch, we’d enrolled on a woodblock printing session with Rachel Sim.

sketch of feathers

woodcut printing

We sketched out some quick ideas then used these beautiful tools to carve the design out from Japanese plywood. I thought it would be hard work but the tools were sharp and the wood was soft so it was easy to carve nice shapes. I did one block with some feathers…

woodcut printing block feathers

And another one with a funny leggy chicken-type thing…

woodcut printing block bird

woodcut printing blocks art in action{all Decorator’s Notebook}

The weekend was so brilliant I’m definitely going to make it an annual visit. If you’re at all interested in art and crafts I’m certain you’ll love it. Next year’s dates aren’t online yet but keep an eye on the Art in Action website to find out when it’s happening in 2014. I’ll be there!

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