Violets, Vases and Vistas.

Winifred Nicholson – Painter


Recently I have visited a wonderfully inspiring exhibition of paintings by Winifred Nicholson (1893 – 1981 ) in which she explores amongst other subjects – violets, vases and vistas.

It is currently touring the UK and can be seen in Nottingham, until the 4th June 2017, at the Lakeside Art Gallery situated on the edge of the Nottingham University Campus at Highfield Park and is easily accessed by Nottingham’s newish Tram Service.  The exhibition will then move on to Falmouth in Cornwall for the duration of the Summer and can be viewed there until the middle of September.

The exhibition is called ‘Liberation of Colour’.

Lakeside Art Gallery, Highfields Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.

The exhibition entry is free and there is an accompanying catalogue-book titled ‘Winifred Nicholson – Liberation of Colour’ which has been written by her art historian grandson Jovan Nicholson which I would highly recommend buying.




There is also a short video (see link below) in which Jovan Nicholson chooses three of her flower paintings to explain significant aspects of her work.  Flower, Table, Pots (1927) – Bankshead Flowers in an Alabastar Jar (c 1928) – Lily of the Valley, St Bees (1940).   He focuses especially on her use of ‘pink magenta’ ( which I think of as ‘violet’ ! ) also her brisk approach to brushwork and finally her deft compositional techniques.

Winifred (Dacre) Nicholson is perhaps most notably remembered as being an accomplished ‘colourist’ painter.  In particular she explored and developed her own palette from a theory of colours which she devised and recorded in a book, also titled ‘Liberation of Colour’ and published in 1944.

She compiled an interesting colour chart in which she takes pure hue colours as a midway starting point, then sets out seven upward brighter or lighter steps (tones and tints) and then seven downward deeper or darker steps (tones and shades).  This arrangement explores in a graphical way the subtleties and complexities of colour notation.  These steps also create colour ‘octaves’ which  clearly references and relates to the linking of colour with music.


Within the colour chart ( p 24 of the catalogue-book – as shown above ) she also transforms the steps of tints and shades into named everyday items.

These items for the most part have a clear common ‘colour’ meaning to us all – items such as putty and pewter, or straw and hay; they are chosen to evoke strong emotional visual memories. Although, obviously,  this is not  a rigorous scientific method as the  items cannot, in terms of their colour, be accurately measured.  It would also be too difficult to give exact numerical weighting to each item as this approach would be too subjective to sensibly achieve. Nevertheless each of these particular words do have a validity of their own and they elicit feelings which hold a strong resonance.


‘Cumberland Hills’ by Winifred Nicholson – 1948

A typical painting from the exhibition that is representative of her main themes and stylistic approach to painting is entitled ‘Cumberland Hills’ it was painted in 1948.  Shown above and chosen because it encapsulates violets in a vase with a vista.

Earlier in her career Winifred Nicholson had also interestingly and additionally explored abstract painting.  She exchanged ideas with artists such as Mondrian – especially during her Paris period.  Examples of these powerful and colourful abstract works by her are also included in this current exhibition.  Also and much later on she inventively introduced a rainbow edging effect to some of her subjects and this work was inspired by looking at and observing the world through a glass prism.

However her most frequent recurring subject matter; the one to which she constantly returns to as a favourite theme for reinterpretation is that of plants and landscapes.  The painting above, characteristically includes a foreground floral interest with a scenic backdrop.  It is clearly descriptive in style – yet combines both impressionistic and expressive techniques.  It shows a vase with violas (heartsease) placed on a window cill and with a view out to the distant lakeland hills beyond. The whole painting has a carefree atmosphere and the colours are carefully selected to be soft and luminous.

There is also a constant and successful interplay between harmonious and contrasting tints and tones.  But, although the painting reveals an underlying observational certainty the detail and outline accuracy of the subject’s form is imprecise as this aspect is of secondary importance to Nicholson’s overriding purpose which was to capture the movement and fluidity of life itself.

Despite considerable family responsibilities and setbacks Winifred Nicholson determinedly continued to paint throughout her life.  She produced an extensive and impressive body of work developed over a career spanning sixty years.  The locations of her landscapes are varied and include the English Lake District, Scotland and its Isles, Greece (Mycenae and the Peloponnese).  These landscapes are rural, rugged places where it is hard to earn a good living from the land.  As wild and relatively uninhabited places they become beautiful, lyrical and romantic backgrounds.  Usually within her composition she also uses the native flora to provide a focus of interest.  These  flowers often growing in the distant landscape  are given greater prominence by their placement in vases at the forefront of the picture.

Often the paintings are framed from an interior and the outside is then viewed through a window.  This technique impresses upon us that we too see the world through multi-layered viewpoints.

I find it is  especially enjoyable and also useful to visit exhibitions where the artists work coincides with my own interests and hopefully, likewise, you will find her work of relevance too.  I know that it encourages me and gives impetus and meaning to my own efforts.  ( See the feature image at the top of the page. ) My small contribution to the continuing and ongoing painting dialogue is to show a detail from a watercolour which I completed a while ago of African Violets and which I felt  was fairly appropriate to use  here !



Donovan songwriter and musician sings ‘Lady of the Flowers’ (1981).



All the photographs and the artwork are my own.

The images of Winifred Nicholson’s work are from the book ‘Liberation of Colour’ by Jovan Nicholson published in 2016 by Phillip Wilson Publishers / I B Touris & Co Ltd.

Spring – Yellow Sunshine

Forsythia, although a native shrub of China, has become a favourite and familiar flower in many English cottage gardens.

During the month of March it cuts a dash that seems daring and a bit brash in an in your face kind of way. But I must admit I like it’s  vividness and verve – especially at this raring to go and  ready for the off time of year.

Forsythia has fairly small-scale yellow flowers, but they have a brilliancy in a shouty-outy sort of way, they are profuse and shine forth.  It is a shrub trying to be a tree and needs quite a generous space with room to sprawl so that it can extend upwards – spreading its long thin arms skywards. These wilful wands wave any which way – with wafts of starry magic scattering sunshine all about.


It comes into bud in early spring when the lengthening days are becoming warmer and wetter.  If you bring budded branches into the home the flowers will open sooner and bring into your house their happy sparkly brightness.


I like to combine the Forsythia with the soft yellowy-grey-green catkins of another small-tree type shrub – a mini weeping willow (salix caprea Kilmarnock) and together with the Forsythia they makes a complementary arrangement.  I used my rectangular glass vase which seemed to suit the purpose and I’ve  also added in some mini daffodils (narcissus Tete a Tete) for a bit of extra liveliness.  All these plants grow in my small garden and they all come out at around the same time; announcing that spring has finally arrived.


Art Garfunkel sings poignantly his poetic song and elegy ‘April Come She Will’  foretelling and following the forthcoming months –  capturing both seasonal change and future fates.  This remarkable performance, accompanied on guitar by Paul Simon, was sung live at a concert given in Central Park, New York in 1981.

Music to my Eyes – Paul Klee

Mood – Colour, Contrast and Harmony

I have recently been looking at the work of the painter Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) particularly at his investigations into colour and specifically theories which link colour with feelings and mood. Klee was especially interested in examining how our emotions can be affected by visual stimuli.  It is comparable or analogous to how we feel and are influenced  when we listen to different types of music.

In the same manner by  which music  bypasses our conscious thought processes – so too does input to our visual field – what we see and view is wordless and therefore not bound up with language.


Paul Klee (1879 – 1940)  ‘Painting Music’


In 1914 Klee travelled to Tunis, and influenced by the light and place – his work at this time became remarkably colourful and vibrant. During this visit, he produced some glorious watercolours. On the front cover of the book above is a painting from his Tunisia period  it is called ‘Motif from Hammamet’ and was painted in 1914.

You can observe clearly how he used informal geometrical shapes – based on squares, rectangles and triangles, to represent, in abstract form the buildings and houses commonly found in North Africa.  Overlaying colours, he created subtle variations and then with smaller brushstrokes arrays and textural patterns.  The colours he uses within the paintings are combinations of  bright primary colours contrasted with deeper browns and dark greys tones.  I think the output of this time is amongst his best work.

As a child, Paul Klee, was an accomplished violinist, but in his teens decided to pursue art instead of following in the footsteps of his musical parents. He also worked as a teacher and artist for the celebrated Bauhaus school, but the continuity of his work was interrupted and disrupted by the second world war.  His style of work was very varied and experimental and not easily categorised.

Below is a short introductory video showing the range of Paul Klee’s work with an explanation of how his use of colour and form created particular moods.  The video  uses examples from paintings which were displayed at an exhibition called ‘The EY Exhibition – Paul Klee – Making Visible’ and held at Tate Modern in 2014.  It is perceptively presented by art historian Rosie Rockel.



Visual imagery whether it is based on realism or abstract forms invariably attracts our attention and is surprisingly compelling.  An added and useful aspect is also that it  has a universal appeal – particularly when contrasted with language – visual imagery is much more capable of crossing  – countries, continents and cultures.

Pictures, patterns, drawings and diagrams,  are not as tied up with our thought processes as  ‘thinking’ which is usually articulated in and expressed through words.  The varied forms of visual imagery appeal more to our feelings and intuition than does rational thinking.

Thoughts and deliberations, especially those which, reach beyond daydreams or the imaginary, can lead onto logical and analytical thinking  – processes which visual imagery tends to bypass. But both the visual field and the hearing / musical field, transmit and connect directly into our subconscious, they  thereby  access the essence and the heart of our very being.  Via this powerful path they  have  a profound impact on our inner emotional life.


Watercolour Subtle Overlays


Experimenting with some of the techniques that Paul Klee used, particularly on his trip to Tunis, I have created, above, blocks of colour that sometimes contrast – when using colours that appear as opposites on the colour wheel – such as green and red; or alternatively, harmonise – those colours that sit next to each other – such as orange and red on a colour wheel.  The overall effect is kaleidoscopic and  for me, it has been a useful  practise and reference piece.

I  used  the paints as unmixed ‘pure’ colours, straight from the palette and allowed them to dry  before overlaying them again to create new hues or shades.  Sometimes colours have been left as a single layer and other times they are overlaid with another colour or even the same colour once again.  This process of layering colours known as ‘glazing’ is a technique which can be used to create a multitude of new colours.

These new colours are far more subtle than any manufacturer of  pre-mixed colour could ever achieve.  Artists who take the trouble to make or mix their own ‘one-off’ colours  will reap the the benefit of having created their own distinctive palette.  The use of an individual colour range incorporates into an artist’s work a signature and a uniqueness that is entirely their own and which will  make their work instantly recognisable.

Returning to – and continuing with Paul Klee’s music analogy, it could be said that in musical terms the vibrant colours provide the high notes; the more subtle tones could be seen as mid-notes or neutrals – and lastly – the darker shades the lower and deeper notes.


Watercolours with Vibrancy

In another exercise piece above I have increased digitally the vibrancy and intensity  of the watercolours.  The brightest colours seem to give out a  feeling of intense joy, whilst  a mood of deep gloom is sensed in the dark and blackish areas.

The combination of ‘contrasts’ or ‘harmonising’ could be compared in melodic terms with the varied movements within a musical score, each of which has its own mood and atmosphere. Colour areas can be equated with our feelings –  happy to ecstatic; or sad and melancholy; quick, slow and so on.  The main idea is that all of our moods and emotions can be translated into ‘visual-musical’ compositions which then  affect and move us.

Klee not only compared his work to music but even referred to his watercolour paintbox as his ‘keyboard of colours’.  It is as if when painting a picture he is actually playing or creating a musical piece. He wrote “I have …. always tried to arouse certain sounds in me; an adventure with colour, great or small.” (1926)

Whilst exploring the effects of different colours, within his paintings he also  played with another essential musical element, that of, rhythm. He converted rhythm or beats from a sound to a visual motif – this was achieved  by introducing into his work repeating forms.


Monument in Fertile Country (1929) a watercolour by Paul Klee


This repetitive theme can be seen in some of his work inspired by landscapes.  In the painting above he reconfigures an aerial view  into simplified abstract geometric forms by  emphasising the linear lines.  He also plays with the horizontal dimension by dividing it into sub-sections and then into further ‘dividual‘ structures all of which help to create a sense of rhythm.

Within the painting Klee uses separated parallel lines and these interplay with vertical and slanted sides. Using a pattern of musical notation he divides the ‘fields’ into “halves, four quarters, eight eighths, sixteen sixteenths or alternative quavers”. (Duchting)

This watercolour was produced in 1929 and is titled  ‘Monument in Fertile Country’. In the year before  Paul Klee undertook a trip to Egypt so it is quite likely that the inspiration for this painting was the landscape of the River Nile.  The yellow broken and truncated sloping shapes may represent the remains of monumental pyramids which are then surrounded by brown and green strip fields and plots.

Another interesting musically inspired work  called ‘Polyphony’ created in 1932, is shown below, and was produced in oil and chalk.  In this painting Klee explores an entirely different effect which is striking and contrasting in its arrangement.  Its musical title ‘polyphony’ means two or more sounds appearing together at the same time. This idea is adapted into a visual form by superimposing small dots over an underlayer- in this way two or more colours always appear together at the same time.

This painting also seems to borrow  from the ‘Impressionist’s’ pointillism style –  but reinvents the technique by using  tiny pixel type shapes to form mosaic patterns over flat washes of colour.  Pointillism originally explored how our eye combines specks of colour together; but Klee utilises the effect differently – for him it is a representation of musical notes – and as with music itself it can create lyrical or discordant passages.

An extract from ‘Polyphony’ (1931) a painting by Paul Klee


I must say that I find these dotty-spotty paintings less pleasing to view than the more serene and sunny  watercolour paintings shown above. The patchy-flickering effect is  not restful or easy on the eye and it becomes exhausting when looked at for any length of time.

However, throughout the ages artists have  wrestled with different styles and techniques to support their work and it is the role of each generation to explore and reinterpret those methods which most reflect the concerns and technological advance of their own age.

The linking of visual experience directly to musical forms was quite particular to the personal vision of Paul Klee and using this metaphor enabled him to produce some wondrous work.



Klee by Hans L Jaffe, Hamlyn 1972

Paul Klee Painting Music by Hajo Duchting, Prestel 2016

All the photographs and also the ‘artwork’ experiments in watercolour translucency are by myself.



In 1919 the musician and composer Stravinsky was commissioned to write a ballet score by Diaghilev the renowned dancer.  The ballet was to be based on an  18th century Neapolitan play and an older music score was adapted and updated by Stravinsky.  The ballet premiered in 1920 at the Paris Opera. Below is a video of the introduction – This production by the Scarpina Ballet Company was choreographed by Nils Christe, most likely in 1987. With abseiling and other acrobatic frolics and follies the colourful production is amusing and delightful.



It is notable that Stravinsky (1882 – 1971 )  was born 3 years before Paul Klee; they  were contemporaneous, although probably not connected.  Klee sadly died 30 years before Stravinksy – Stravinsky lived on to a great age and was close to 90 when he died.





February Flora at Cotswold Garden Flowers

Early Spring at a Plant Nursery in Badsey, Worcestershire

In mid to late February as we are reaching the end of the winter season, life in and on the ground begins to stir and rise.  Snowdrops are perhaps the most noticeable signal that the life cycle is beginning anew. But, however wonderful the purity of white snowdrops, it is also a surprise to note the colourful range and variety of plants that are also out in flower at this time of year especially in our gardens; but only if you are interested and inspired enough to seek them out.

A good example and a place to start on this intriguing journey is the delightful nursery called Cotswold Garden Flowers, to be found on the edge of Badsey, a small village set within the lovely Worcestershire landscape.

You will need your best navigational skills or a good SatNav to find it as you meander through the village maze, taking left turns here and right turns there convincing yourself  that you must be lost – but then finally as the road peters out altogether and becomes a stony track you find, with relief, that you have arrived.

Traveller’s Joy – in February –  at Badsey  (A native clematis with characterful downy winter seedheads  found scrambling amongst the hedgerows of Worcestershire)

Bob Brown who set up and runs the nursery,  is an expert plantsman and gives informative and entertaining talks too.  Plants to him are akin to people they have their good points, their weak points and their quirky points – he knows and notices them all.

He has a team of helpers who he has trained up to give advice and sometimes they may alternate with Bob to give an equally wonderful talk.  The photo below was from a talk by Mandie that I attended in February last year.

Special Varieties of Crocus, Euphorbia, Primroses, Iris, Hellebore, and many more !           (the 3rd week of February 2016)

The format of the talks is based on a theme, but the substance is generated from the plants that are collected from around the nursery on the day and so they are always tied to a particular seasonal moment.

Bob is a plantaholic, he seeks out the unusual; but he also likes to rate his plants from a practical perspective.  His website and nursery catalogue give more useful information about the technical aspects of planting and growing –  such as soil preferences or hardiness ratings.

Talking of hardiness if you go in the winter months when it is cold it’s advisable to wrap up warm as the talk takes place in an underheated room – but there is warmth in the welcome and friendliness of the people you meet and also the coffee and homemade cakes which are delicious.

You can just turn up to a talk, but it’s better and more polite to book a place as the seating is limited.


Link to Cotswold Garden Flowers website:

Find out more about the wild clematis vitalba:


Donovan (b-1946) Scottish born singer-songwriter and guitarist, sings his own folk influenced composition ‘The Lullaby of Spring’ from his double album ‘A Gift from a Flower to a Garden’ released in 1967.

Snowdrops at Painswick Rococo Garden

February is snowdrop time here in the UK.

I usually like to go on a snowdrop stroll, preferably a winter woodland walk; at this   turning point in the year- poised as it is between the gloominess of winter and the hopefulness of spring. A particular favourite place of mine to visit is the Painswick Rococo Garden.


The Painswick Rococo garden is renowned for its swathes of snowdrops with wave upon wave of lush green leaves, splashed and stippled  with spotlit creaminess and whiteness.

The greens and whites of the ground cover contrast perfectly  with shaded tall black-brown trunks of towering trees.  Delicate traceries are formed from the countless tiny gauzy twigs, loosely intertwining, weaving a fine and airy canopy overhead. Inescapably, the eye is drawn upwards; entranced and wondering at the pale grey-blueness above.


It’s best if you can to go, on a bright sunny day when the light is  luminous and the sky is a wintry blue. The low sun casts extended shadows which seem to slip and spill carelessly around and about on the grassy ground.

There are about 6 acres of grounds to explore within the Rococo Garden, and a walk could be long or short depending on how much exploring you wish to do.  The main part of the garden is set within a bowl and so much of it can be viewed from high terraces.

Some parts are manicured and other areas have a more wild feel. I particularly like the waterfall shown below, which is in a shady dell with impressive naturalised snowdrops covering the steep bank..  This part of the garden is damp and mossy with ferns too, it has a sombre and melancholy mood in a Victorian sort of way.




When the snowdrops are out they also hold special talks and you can listen to the history of the garden and learn about the different types of snowdrops that are grown. They also have a small nursery selling a few unusual varieties – although not enough to suit the serious galanthophiles.  There is a cafe too for coffees, lunch and teas – so you could spend a whole day there if you are not in a hurry and are so inclined.




To continue the tranquil mood here is  Chopin’s Nocturne: Opus 9, No 2 in E flat – written between 1830 – 1832 and played  by Sergei Rachmaninoff; most likely in the 1920’s.




The images of the garden are all by myself and the Sunlit Snowdrops photograph  can be purchased from Red Bubble.

This is a link to the Painswick Rococo Garden website.



Colour, Dots, Blocks and Stripes – Sean Scully

Elements : Components and Parts

The image above is one outcome of some extensive experiments I have been carrying out over the last year or so with my watercolour paints.

I am quite pleased with the final effect achieved.  I particularly like the many variations of colour and have found that by photographing them the back lighting effect of a digital screen has allowed  the translucency and vividness to be kept. These lively qualities in watercolour are unfortunately often lost because as the paint dries it becomes significantly dulled.

I layered the colours so that they take on quite subtle variations and this is a technique that I was also came across quite recently in the work of Sean Scully. However his work is mainly in oils and on a colossal scale – certainly in comparison to my more modest and meagre efforts.

More colours using a cooler palette range

Sean Scully’s experiments in the  ‘abstraction of colour’ have been a lifetime’s work.  He has continued – doggedly and stubbornly, against all the odds – to follow his mission of examining the minutiae of  different colour effects through both layering and juxtaposition.

It was perhaps Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) who first began to look at painting and colour as analogous to music.  In music we are quite used to our emotions being stirred by notes and sounds; and it is in a similar way that our feelings can also be affected by the visual forms and colours within a painting.  This new and revolutionary idea involved stripping away the realistic pictorial elements of paintings and replacing them with abstract non representational forms.

Kazimir Malevich (1878 – 1935) is another significant abstract artist who further developed these ideas but he had his own emphasis and his paintings are particularly characterised by radiating and strikingly bold coloured geometric forms.

However, in Scully’s work the abstraction mainly consists of exploring variations of blocks and stripes of seemingly single colours and it is perhaps best understood  in the context of  work begun by Paul Klee,  developed  by Mark Rothko and then further progressed by Jasper Johns.  Other notable artists that have influenced his work include Matisse and Mondrian.

He has an extensive body of work which is only just beginning to be properly appreciated and recognised here in the UK,  although he has long been established in New York – which has been  his home since the mid 1970’s.

Scully has also more recently exhibited at the 2015 Venice Biennale. This  5 minute video was produced by The Royal Academy, UK, and  not only shows an interview with Scully RA but also tours his Venice exhibition and shows the paintings insitu.

These stunning paintings can also be seen in a recently published book  called “Sean Scully Land Sea” which is  beautifully produced. It shows wonderfully well his paintings whose inspiration are Venice itself and its canals – they were produced especially for the 56th Biennale. The photographs  of the paintings within the book are as displayed on the gallery walls of a magnificent, light-filled and luminous Venetian Palazzo.

( The book does not seem to be that widely available and I should point out that the customer reviews relate to a different book altogether – his black and white photographs of Aran – which also seems interesting but looks as if it will be tricky to track down ! )

There are also a number of interesting videos which can be found  via the internet which explain his work and follow his life story. I have selected, below, a few ‘choice’ representative samples to give an idea of what can be found with just a little bit of searching.

The first is called “Sean Scully -American Beauty” and lasts for just over half an hour.  It is an objective biographical account which traces Sean’s personal history, from his birth in 1945, then relates his childhood experiences and follows on with his development as a successful artist. The film was made in 2000 and it is well worth watching. ( Note: to see at full screen you may need to do a separate search – which will be worthwhile to see the detail – ditto the other videos below too !)

This second video which is around 5 mins in length is a tour around  some of his early paintings that were exhibited in Bern in 2012.  Sean gives quite detailed descriptions of how they were achieved together with their context.  He describes how his ideas have developed and also the techniques employed to achieve particular effects.

The third video I have selected is interesting because it follows the painting process from the start of a blank canvas through to it’s completion. The painting is relatively small so the video is a  shortish 10 mins in length. It is called The Opposite Ways Testigo – The Witness and was made by Robert Gardner in 1997.

Here also is a further link to a review from  ‘The Art Newspaper’ by Pac Pobric in May 2015, it gives details and updates about the background to his more recent work.

( I will find these links  a useful resources for me to return too when I get a bit stuck or doubtful about what I am doing and I hope you will find them helpful too ! )


Simon & Garfunkel sing ‘America’. The song was written in 1972 by Paul Simon.

The image at the top of is a photograph by myself of a watercolour painting also by myself.

Allt y Bela – Frost in Usk

Arne Maynard – Garden Designer

It’s a cold and frosty morning today; which has reminded me of a wonderful video that I came across quite recently, of a great garden still in the making . The aerial view video is by William Collinson and shows off a garden in Wales by the gifted garden designer Arne Maynard.  The house and its grounds are called Allt y bela, they can be found nestled and   sequestered within the wild Welsh landscape of Usk.  Allt y bela is not only a home but also an education centre too, as Arne offers workshops and other varied and interesting events. I haven’t been there myself, yet, although it is on my “to go” list !

Clicking  on the above link, should take you to the page listed as “frost”.  The video is labelled “Allt y bela in the frost from Arne Maynard Garden Design.” ( Make sure you watch it at full-screen size. )

Arne’s website  also provides a wealth of information for serious gardeners, it is beautifully presented, and incorporates wonderful photography so is well worth returning to and revisiting – again and again !

AND FINALLY  – here is a rare archival video of the American poet, Robert Frost,  reading his elusive and enigmatic  1922 poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

The feature photo is my own; it is a composite / digitally altered image showing a winter tree in silhouette with the moon behind.