How artist Lesley Birch spent 21 days in isolation after York Open Studios shutdown

Perfect Day Crocs: One of Lesley Birch’s 21 Days In Isolation artworks in oil, inspired by Cornwall, in harmony with her paint-spattered choice of footwear and garden pebbles

YORK Open Studios 2020 must be York Shut Studios 2020 instead, after the Government’s orders to stay home put paid to visiting other people’s homes.

In the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, however, York’s resourceful artists and craft makers are still finding ways to share their wares, whether online in the Virtual Open Studios showcase at yorkopenstudios.co.uk, on their own websites or by filling their windows with artworks.

This weekend, as with last weekend, 144 artists would have been exhibiting and working at 100 locations, among them landscape painter Lesley Birch at her home studio in Clifton Place, York.

Far from downing brushes, she decided to undertake the one-off 21 Days In Isolation Project, her progress documented on Instagram, #lesleybirch21days.

Lesley’s latest paintings for her Romantic Landscapes series hanging up to dry in her home studio

“I set about the project almost immediately at lockdown,” says Scottish-born Lesley. “I’d always thought about filming my painting in a time-lapse and had never got around to it.

“So, I set up the clamp and my camera on my easel and away I went. The first few time-lapses worked out well. Then I thought, ‘why not do this for 21 days? – a time-lapse a day and a painting a day – and see what happens’.  

“Why 21 days? Well, that just came into my head, but I realise that was actually the initial lockdown time [set by the Government], so it must have gone in subconsciously.”  

Setting her artistic boundaries for the project, Lesley decided to work in oils. “I’ve been trying to develop my skills in this medium, and I decided to base the paintings on my trips to Scotland and Cornwall, working from my sketchbooks,” she says. 

Artist Lesley Birch, pictured in the studio in earlier times before 21 Days In Isolation

“I filmed a painting every morning, because the light was good, and painted into the afternoons. Every day I had a fantastic routine: breakfast; set up the oil palette and paper. Ensure camera OK. Then away!

“Morning break coffee and assessment of the painting. Another painting maybe. Lunch. Then photographing the paintings and uploading them to my Instagram feed.”

Under the #artistsupportpledge initiative set up by artist Matthew Burrows, Lesley could sell her 21 Days works as part of the pledge. “The deal was if I reached £1,000 worth of sales, I’d buy another artist’s work. So really, it was artist supporting artists – worldwide.”

Lesley worked from her studio in her garden. “Usually it’s for printmaking and large acrylic paintings, so it was a change to restrict myself to oils. I had to gather my materials from PICA studios in town [in Grape Lane], bring them home and order paper and new oils online”.

Lesley assessing the first few days’ work on the studio floor

How did the working experience contrast with Lesley’s painting trips to Italy, Spain, Cornwall and Scotland? “I wasn’t feeling the wild wind or soft sun on my skin and I wasn’t by the sea, so I used my sketchbooks as inspiration. And my head. I revisited these beautiful places in my head. It was great!” she says.

Painting at home contrasted too with the busy environment at PICA, a shared space where others work around her. “I was alone…with my IPod music – I’m not I’m not sure my music is to their taste!” says Lesley, a former musician with Hue & Cry in the 1980s.

“My PICA friends commented on Instagram on what I was doing, so there was still that support. And I chatted to my studio mate Mark [fellow artist Mark Hearld] most days on the phone.”

What did Lesley learn about herself as an artist working in isolation? “I think many artists already work in isolation – and indeed, this is the way I worked before I got together with the PICA crowd,” she says.

Such A Rugged Day, memories of Scotland, by Lesley Birch, from the 21 Days In Isolation Project

“So, I just reverted back to that way of working: alone, with my music. I challenged myself with the focus; I never thought I’d be able to create so many pieces.”

Comparing how she felt on Day 1 and Day 21 of her “mammoth task”, Lesley says: “Well, Day 1 was a bit of an exploration. I had no idea that I was planning going on for 21 days until the end of Day I, where I felt exhilarated and in no doubt that I could produce one or more paintings each day.

“By Day 21, I was utterly exhausted. The creative energy to ensure I was happy with each piece was a challenge. The Instagram messaging system went mental with paintings selling in seconds by the last few days! I even had to send one to New Zealand.

“I was collecting addresses, bank transfers, and then I had to go online and order a whole lot of packaging for sending out the paintings, which still had to dry. I was overwhelmed.”

Pale Green Sea on the easel  as Lesley painted in isolation

Lesley had decided to sell her uplifting landscape paintings at only £120 a pop, including shipping, “because we are in difficult times at the moment and everyone should have a chance to buy original art”.

“I’ve really enjoyed painting in the alla prima style [a direct painting approach where paint is applied wet on wet without letting earlier layers dry] and plan to create a new collection,” she says.

“Will there be more paintings from 21 Days In Isolation? Yes, though not on a daily basis. My 21 days are over. I feel on a bit of a roll at the moment, but I don’t want to put myself under the pressure of daily filming, so I’m just gonna take my time. These paintings will be more of the same as I have lots more sketchbooks for inspiration.”

More of Lesley’s new Romantic Landscapes paintings pegged out to dry on her studio washing line

She is calling the series her Romantic Landscapes. “That’s how this series seems to have developed in the time of Covid-19. I want an idealised view of reality,” Lesley reasons. “I think at the moment people want to escape into nice things: beautiful colours, soft skies and even a storm or two in a painting isn’t too bad.

“I know I want to escape, so I’m just following my intuition.  These paintings will probably go to my galleries, but a small collection will go online for sale.”

As for how Lesley will spend this weekend, she concludes: “York Open Studios has been in my head this past week and I shall continue to be creative.” 

Did you know?

After the cancellation of York Open Studios 2020, Lesley Birch is putting a selection of her YOS pieces online at lesleybirchart.com at £200 each, framed and ready to hang.

Copyright of The Press, York

No York Open Studios next weekend, but all that art still needs a new home, so look here…DAY 22

Maria Keki: Applying veils of colour in her paintings

LAST weekend should have been spent visiting other people’s homes, not staying home. Next weekend too.

This is not a cabin-fevered call for a foolhardy Trumpian dropping of the guard on Covid-19, but a forlorn wish that York Open Studios 2020 could have been just that: York Open Studios. Instead, they will be York Shut Studios.

Nevertheless, in the absence of the opportunity to meet 144 artists at 100 locations, banished by the  Coronavirus lockdown, CharlesHutchPress is determinedly championing the creativity of York’s artists and makers, who would have been showcasing their ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, print, photography, sculpture and textiles skills.

Each day, in brochure order, five artists who now miss out on the exposure of Open Studios are being given a pen portrait on these pages, because so much art and craft will have been created for the event and still needs a new home. Home and studio addresses will not be included at this time.

Meanwhile, York Open Studios artists are finding their own way to respond to the shutdown by filling their windows with their work instead. Look for #openwindowsyork2020 to locate them. “If you see one in your area while taking your daily exercise, take a picture and let us know,” they say.

Furthermore, look out for plenty of the 144 artists still showcasing their work over the York Open Studios period online. Visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk to take your own virtual tour.

The website says: “We’re doing a Virtual Open Studio, with artists posting based on a daily theme for the ten days spanning our two weekends. They’ll be showing you their studios and workshops, favourite processes, answering your questions, and of course lots of pictures of their new work!

“Search for #YorkOpenStudios anywhere on social media or follow your favourite artists to see more.”

First, however, here are five more artists and makers for you to discover…

Lesley Birch at work on one of her paintings

Lesley Birch, mixed media

BORN in Glasgow, former Hue & Cry musician Lesley’s Scottish roots feed into her love of wild and remote places and in turn into heartfelt paintings notable for their sense of colour and composition.

“I’m interested in expressing my personal response to time and place,” says Lesley, whose work ranges from large, atmospheric landscapes to small/medium works on paper and boards in oils, pigments and acrylics from her travels to Italy, Spain and Scotland.

Earlier this year, Lesley launched her Marks & Moments show at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, where she filled two floors with more than 50 paintings from her Musical Abstract Collection.

Little Pink Shore, by Lesley Birch

Lesley has just completed 21 Days In Isolation, a one-off project in Covid-19 lockdown offering paintings at exceptionally low prices. “Will there be more paintings? Yes. Though not on a daily basis. My 21 days are over,” she says.

Why did she undertake such a “mammoth task”? “Because we are in difficult times at the moment and everyone should have a chance to buy original art,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed painting in the alla prima style and plan to create a new collection.”    

Coming next will be her Romantic Landscapes series. Meanwhile, after the cancellation of York Open Studios 2020, Lesley is putting a selection of her YOS pieces online at lesleybirchart.com at £200 each, framed and ready to hang.

Frances G Brock: Expressive portraits and landscape paintings

Frances G Brock, painting

FRANCES paints both expressive portraits in mixed water-media and landscape paintings in water-media and oils.

By training and profession a music teacher, Frances has a second string to her bow as an artist, and this month she would have been taking part in her fifth successive York Open Studios.

A portrait by Frances G Brock

Her work shows a broad artistic vocabulary and can be seen at the Dee Alexander Gallery in Epping and Silo Art Gallery in Cawood. In particular, she receives many commissions for her domestic animal paintings.

She has tutored courses at Old Sleningford Hall, North Stainley, near Ripon, for the past two years and leads workshops by request. Learn more at jacksonartsites.com/francesart.

Maria Keki with two of her artworks

Maria Keki, painting

AFTER fine art studies in Manchester and post-graduate study at the University of Leeds, Maria enjoyed a fulfilling career as a teacher of art, craft, and design, alongside creating her own work.

She continues to be passionate about working with young people through the arts. 

In her paintings, remembered and imagined places are evoked through veils of colour. Such works have been exhibited at York Open Studios in previous years and in other local shows too, as well being sold privately. More info at maria_keki@yahoo.co.uk.

Ceramicist Beccy Ridsdel

Beccy Ridsdel, ceramics

BECCY completed her BA in contemporary 3D crafts at the University of York in 2008, achieving first class honours.

Since then, she has taught ceramics and kiln-formed glass at York College, as well as making sculptural, hand-built, stoneware ceramics from her workshop in York.

A stoneware ceramic by Beccy Ridsdel

In addition to exhibiting in York, Hull, Thirsk, Sheffield and Sleaford, Beccy has shown work at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and the Houston Centre for Contemporary Crafts in Texas. Her ceramics have featured in magazines and art journals too.

She took part in York Open Studios from 2013 to 2018 and would have resumed her involvement in 2020. More details at beccyridsdel.co.uk.

Dawn Ridsdel: Maker of cheerful, colourful ceramics

Dawn Ridsdel, ceramics

DAWN creates colourful and cheerful ceramics to enhance and brighten the home, applying a sculptural aesthetic while exploring surface and form in her use of layers of slips, underglazes, lustres and glaze.

She went back to college in her thirties to study craft and has been working in arts education as a technician ever since, 23 years now, at York College, where she also teaches ceramics.

“I was very happy helping others, but I decided I needed to take a different direction and took a further course of study, which has given me new confidence,” says Dawn. “After a lot of hard work, I was awarded a first class honours degree in contemporary craft from York St John University in July 2017.”

“I’m fascinated by colour and the way it can affect us and how we perceive it, ” says Dawn Ridsdel of her ceramics

Based in a garden studio on the outskirts of York, Dawn specialises in hand-building techniques to make vessel and cloud forms and develop the clay surface to hint at open spaces, skies, seas, stars and planets. “I’m very moved by the decline in natural habitats and species and believe that we must do more to celebrate and protect our wildlife,” she says.

“I’m also fascinated by colour and the way it can affect us and how we perceive it, so my work also uses contrasting colours which, when brought together, can enhance each other and cause them to vibrate. In this way I hope to bring life and vitality to my work.”

Dawn has exhibited at Art& York at York Racecourse, Sunny Bank Mills Gallery, Farsley, and various galleries in Yorkshire. Seek out her work at dawnridsdel.co.uk.

TOMORROW: Chiu-i Wu; Amy Butcher; Carol Coleman; Jo Ruth, Luisa Holden and Anna-Marie Magson.

York artist Lesley Birch responds to the Forces Of Nature in Glyndebourne show

York artist Lesley Birch at work in her studio

YORK artist Lesley Birch will exhibit at Glyndebourne, the Sussex opera house home to the Glyndebourne Festival, from May to December.

“I’m very proud to have been invited,” she says. “It’s a huge privilege and rather daunting too. I’m working on pieces now.”

Lesley has been chosen for the Forces Of Nature exhibition of paintings, prints and ceramics in Gallery 94, located by the stalls entrance to the auditorium at the country house in Lewes, East Sussex.

Curated by Nerissa Taysom, the exhibition was inspired by the strong women on stage in this year’s upcoming six festival operas, so all ten artists will be women. 

Exhibiting alongside Lesley will be Michele Fletcher, Tanya Gomez, Rachel Gracey, Kathryn Johnson, Rosie Lascelles, Kathryn Maple, Tania Rutland, Katie Sollohub and Hannah Tounsend.

The Old Town, by Lesley Birch, part of her Marks & Moments exhibition at Partisan, York

Forces Of Nature will explore how artists represent their feelings or memories of natural phenomena, its forms and sounds, while questioning how we confront nature in an age of climate change.

Lesley works out of PICA Studios, the artist collective in Grape Lane, York, and in this typically busy year, her new Marks & Moments paintings can be savoured at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, in a feast of colour and imagination until March 31.

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, ranging from Lesley’s Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low,” says Lesley, whose works are divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs. All paintings are for sale.

Forces Of Nature at Glyndebourne: Artist open houses, Sunday, May 17, 10am to 1pm, open to the public; May 21 to December 13, festival and tour ticket holders only.

Lesley Birch marks the moment with Musical Abstract show at Partisan

Flurry, mixed media on canvas, one of the pieces from Lesley Birch’s new Musical Abstract Collection at Partisan, York

LESLEY Birch’s exhibition Marks & Moments at Partisan, the boho restaurant, café and arts space in Micklegate, York, is a feast of colour and imagination. 

Filling two floors, more than 50 paintings are on view, from Lesley’s  Musical Abstract Collection – large canvases expressing music and movement in nature – to little gouache gems created en plein air in the remote village of Farindola in Abruzzo, Italy.

Reverie, mixed media, by Lesley Birch, who says: “Ethereal energy in expressive brush marks – another from the Musical Abstract Collection”

Lesley’s paintings capture an atmosphere of place and moment with her own personal language of mark-making, whether on paper or on canvas, and this newly opened display showcases it all.

“When Florencia Clifford at Partisan invited me to have a show, I thought it was a grand opportunity to bring a lot of paintings into a buzzy space, where food and art are key,” says Lesley, who works out of PICA Studios, an artist collective space in Grape Lane, York.

The Old Town, oil on canvas, by Lesley Birch: scratches and atmosphere from Lesley’s Italian Collection

“Partisan is a sort of emporium full of collectable stuff, such as vintage lamps and the like, and it’s so exciting to see my paintings in this bohemian setting, reflected off the old French mirrors and hung high and low.”

Divided into colour and spring moods upstairs and dramatic landscapes downstairs, the marks and moments of Lesley’s artistic journey can be seen at Partisan until March 31. All paintings are for sale.

For more details, go to lesleybirchart.com.