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Painting with nature ‘en plein air’ at RHS Garden Harlow Carr

by Anita Bowerman June 19, 2019 0 Comments

Anita Bowerman painting at RHS Garden Harlow Carr

There is something so special about painting ‘en plein air’, which means the act of painting outdoors which was made popular by French impressionists such as Monet. I love immersing myself in nature, absorbing its wondrous sights including animals, birds, insects, trees, flowers and the smells which surround you, all of which a photograph snapped in a split second, can never capture.

I have painted all my life, and was trained, as everyone usually is, in the traditional way, using brushes with watercolour and gouache, a thick watercolour paint. However, over the last few years, I have started to find alternative ways to paint to add a different dimension to my work and adding acrylic paints to the variety of mediums I use.

To illustrate this, if I am painting a landscape, I firstly collect fallen twigs, moss and leaves. When painting water, I will collect pebbles and for a beach scene and I will look out for fallen Seagull feathers. In place of brushes, I use these natural tools to paint with, creating texture and adding depth, so each painting will have its own story.

Painting trees using fallen twigsThis is how I have created my collection for RHS Garden Harlow Carr’s monthly seasonal paintings. I collected fallen twigs, moss, leaves and grass from the garden before setting to work. All the trees were painted with twigs, the foliage is created by dabbing the moss in paint and additional elements of the paintings are made with leaves, grass and even heather. I also mix the paint with a twig and add the paint to the picture dab by dab as you can see in April’s Apple Blossom Hedge.
Painting of Apple Blossom Hedge in the Kitchen Garden at RHS Garden Harlow Carr
In each month’s paintings, I have added tiny wildlife details such as bees busy collecting nectar, friendly robins, blue tits, blackbirds, a grey wagtail, a fox, a hedgehog, pheasant and last but not least a squirrel with a nut. You will find boards located around the garden marking the locations where I painted each artwork.

I walk around the garden a few times before deciding on the vista I am inspired to paint. There are particular highlights in the garden each month, which I endeavoured to capture, such as the colourful Winter Garden in December.

Other highlights include the Rhododendrons in March, which were first planted 60 years ago or Stream-side in June.

Painting of Stream-side at RHS Garden Harlow CarrI have adored observing all the wildlife as I paint. There are so many different birds including lots of friendly inquisitive robins, one even hopping onto my watercolour paper to see what I was doing. Sometimes, the sun was so hot my paint dried in a few minutes, other times the heavens opened and the rain added another dimension to the painting.

Many people come to talk to me when I am painting outside, intrigued to know what I am doing and how I paint. These days, it is a rare sight to see an artist painting outside. Indeed, someone said to me recently, that it used to be a common sight to see artists, but since the advent of the digital camera it has become very rare.

Painting calms your mind and I can spend hours at work and it seems like minutes. I have sometimes lost track of time and have ended up going home at 8pm to finish a painting.

I have loved every minute of being Artist-in-Residence at Harlow Carr and look forward to finishing the collection of monthly paintings in July and August before the end of my residency. My creative mind is running away with me, I have a book in my mind, perhaps about the tiny creatures in each of the paintings I have created, and many more ideas besides.

You can see four of my paintings on the wall of the Harlow Carr reception area, Limited Edition Prints are also available in the RHS Garden Harlow Carr shop and you can come to meet me at the Harlow Carr Flower Show from 21 to 23 June. I will also have my work on display in the Bath House from 20 June for 6 weeks, or you can visit my art gallery in the centre of Harrogate.

As you walk around the gardens at Harlow Carr look out for signs showing the locations where I have painted.


Anita Bowerman
Anita Bowerman


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