Eileen Cooper, first female Keeper of RA

2018 has started for me with an inspiring exhibition at Diss Corn Hall in Norfolk. Last year I went to a Print in Action day with my family which was being run by a printmaking friend, Annette Rolston, at her workshops in Diss, Designermakers21. It was fantastic with a mixed exhibition of master printmakers in the Corn Hall opposite, Henry Moore, David Hockney etc. and then demonstrations by professional local printmakers using a variety of approaches: linoprint, drypoint, stencil, woodblock. We were able to ‘have a go’ and all felt the satisfaction that printmaking gives, it is such a contemplative creative process, for me it feels much calmer and more considered than drawing and painting. Having produced some interesting pieces we had to rush back home to receive delivery of a life-size rhinoceros sculpture made from scrap metal for the Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail 2017… another story!

When Annette called me a few months ago to ask if I would take part in this years ‘Print in Action’ day my immediate response was yes… for me it ticked all the boxes of including good professional artists, displaying work to a high standard and being inclusive and accessible to the public. I will be demonstrating my keyblock linoprints, which are then hand coloured with watercolour, on Saturday 10th February at the Corn Hall. As an added bonus Annette called a couple of weeks ago to invite me to put works into a mixed exhibition of prints alongside a solo exhibition of prints and sculpture by Eileen Cooper RA in the main gallery at the Corn Hall. I jumped at the chance and so found myself at the PV a couple of nights ago, I didn’t realise there was a film and conversation with Eileen as part of the PV. The film was so inspiring, it featured footage of the artist in her studio, showing how she overcame particular technical challenges such as registering linoprints of life-size figures as well as watching her paintings in progress. I was struck by the amount of working and reworking her paintings took. Entire parts of the painting would be painted out and repainted to put figures into different poses, all to ensure that the lines were just right and that the overall composition was the best it could be. She also talked about her creation of a series of sculptures, with the help of studio technicians Eileen was able to create paper cut out sculptures in bronze. There are some on show at the Corn Hall and it was interesting to see all the decisions involved to create the patina and colour that she required.

On practical terms the evening was fantastic for me as a painter, printmaker but something else has been running through my mind in a much clearer way than it ever has before. Eileen is the first female Keeper (boss) of the Royal Academy in it’s 250 year history. She has held the post for 6 years and having just retired from the position has, thankfully, handed it on to another powerful woman artist, Paula Rego. A question was asked about who Eileen’s female role models were at art school in the 1970s and she said that there just weren’t any, the art world then was so steeped in patriarchy and women had only just been allowed to enter the Life Drawing rooms let alone establish a tradition of female artists. I was born in 1974 in a rural Norfolk village and didn’t know any painters as I was growing up, my art education at high school was poor to non-existent and I sometimes wonder how I came to be a painter at all!* I have always had a sense of the art world being a male domain and even recently looking through the art monograph books at Foyles the balance seems to be about 80/20 representing men. When I was at Falmouth Art College I wrote a dissertation on the lack of women artists at the National Gallery and the representation of women in the gallery through the male painters eye. I have visited the Venice Biennale for many years and one of the most striking installations for me was the Guerrilla Girls at the entrance to the Italian Pavilion, including their famous ‘Advantages of being a Woman Artist’

Guerilla Girls

I think what I feel is anger and hope. Anger that childcare and housekeeping are still things that my contemporary male artists don’t have to contend with in the same way as female artists but hope that at this year’s biennale there was a large representation of fabulous women artists in their 70’s and 80’s. (I will never forget Sheila Hicks’s epic textile installation in the Arsenale.) Hope that I can follow their hard won paths. Essentially I no longer feel that the male dominated Norwich School of Painters – Arnesby Brown, Crome, Cotman, Seago – really is my inheritance, despite the fact we walk, draw and paint in the same landscape. I really am ploughing my own furrow and following my creative drive single mindedly. I am excited to see where it takes me…

*I am fortunate that both of my parents are creative, they have instilled in me and my sister a relentless work ethic and drive to pursue our creative visions regardless of the day to day practicalities. This sense of endurance and focus is in my core even though life  can pull me away from it. I always return to what I know and love in the studio and make sure I visit the galleries and artists works that inspire me.

The Greater The Distance, The Clearer The View

I have been told by many people that my recent experience of having a very sick child will change me. That you come out of the other side of the ‘journey’ as a changed person in many ways. We are half way through Hen’s treatment so it is difficult to see what this change might be from here, where we might end up, how my thinking or approach to life may change. I have continued to paint and show throughout Hen’s illness but for the past couple of months my usual source of inspiration hasn’t been holding my attention in the way that it has for years.

I grew up in a small rural village on the edge of the southern marshes of the Norfolk Broads, the big skies and waterlogged carrs native to Norfolk were my playground as a child and have been my constant companion. The vast, often bleak, landscapes have always felt like home but over the past year and a half I have started to find the marshland overwhelming. The trauma of our recent experiences has overwhelmed my limbic system and the marshes are just too much to deal with. I have often described the landscape as raw and exposed, it is just that and I have found myself automatically seeking the safety, shelter and calmness of the woods.

There is a pocket of ancient woodland next to Haddiscoe Church near my studio which is hidden in a hollow along a landspring between two parallel main roads. Cars race past either side of the woods and huge arable fields are intensively farmed with little in the way of hedgerow or diversity. The woods in the hollow go unnoticed and are known as Devil’s Hole as the church sits physically higher, locally this is explained as ‘heaven up above and hell down below’. The woodland walk at Haddiscoe combined with my familiar marshes at Reedham and the dense, thriving hedgerows of the rural lanes inspired me to apply to Cley Contemporary, an annual curated contemporary art exhibition in North Norfolk. My idea to create three tunnel books of woodland, marsh and hedgerow was accepted just before Christmas and I am developing the works to show at Cley Contemporary, July 2018. The brief, set by curator Caroline Fisher, resonated with me: “The greater the distance the clearer the view. It encapsulates the idea that something seen from far away can resolve itself to become clearer than something seen close up or that a long journey can allow us the greatest perspective on a subject. It implies either distance or time between the object and the viewer.”

I hope that through the process of making new work and giving myself creative freedom to experiment and play with materials, process and subject matters I will be able to either rediscover my love for the wild marshes or find a love for something new.




New Year, New Ritual

My sister, Laura, is a musician and has developed a series of curated evenings with other musician friends called Modern Ritual performed in London at Cafe Oto, Union Chapel and The Barbican. For all creatives there is an element of ritual or habit that we create to give structure to an otherwise unstructured way of being. Over the past couple of years, whilst caring for my 9 year old son during his treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, my painting practice has got me through some hard times but I have also lost elements of the ritual and habit that help to create the right environment for me as a painter.

The painting at the start of this blog has special significance for me, I created the drawings in an ancient woodland on a particularly hard day. I parked the car at Haddiscoe Church and walked into the woods crying uncontrollably. I have found during Hen’s illness that 90% of the time it is absolutely necessary to hold it together, not let the emotion out as it could take over everything and wouldn’t help the situation. I didn’t feel much like drawing but made myself walk into the woods. The combination of moving my body and being in such an ancient place worked it’s magic and soon I could breathe properly, I felt properly rooted to the place and sat to draw for a couple of hours. Time slowed, my senses focused on the sounds in the woods, as I was sitting amongst tree roots I watched a tiny spider walk across my legs and I felt the slow turn of the planet.

I know drawing can do this for me, I know that this, along with my love of paint, paper, colour, drawing, is why I am an artist. I know the creative and emotional freedom I feel when I’m in my studio or out drawing. I know the excitement I feel when in the presence of great paintings, they make everything else drop away. But somehow I forget…. I forget how important it is to me… I forget how it helps me… I forget how other people might feel like this too…

My plan for 2018 is simple…! Reinstate the ritual, get back into the creative groove, make work I love, visit galleries, be inspired, inspire others. I am not the best at routine but this blog is going to be my reminder to myself to focus, take myself seriously, to give myself the time I need to develop as an artist and to be proud of the work I have produced by the end of the year.


This is the drawing that reminds me how to be… Devils Hole, Haddiscoe, Norfolk.



Aldeburgh Gallery 2018

At the end of a busy year, alongside looking forward to winter festivities, I find myself planning exhibitions, workshops and talks for Spring, Summer, Autumn 2018. I enjoy making a fresh year planner and putting in all the dates but it does seem weird to be in the depths of winter thinking about summer exhibitions and workshops! I have cleared the decks a bit in terms of exhibitions as I want to develop my work in new ways, possibly pursuing more drawing, printmaking and bookmaking and am excited to have been programmed in to The Aldeburgh Gallery 27/09/18 – 03/10/18 to showcase the new work. Although it seems like a long way off planning needs to start now, I find that I need to be able to visualise the show in order to make it a reality. Once I can see the exhibition and the artwork in my minds eye all I need to do is make it happen!! I visited the gallery this week to measure up the walls and have a think about how my work will look in the space, I am also considering inviting a couple of sculptor friends to share the exhibition, the 2D and 3D art forms could really compliment each other. After measuring up I treated myself to a quick look around Thompson’s Art Gallery where they had the most beautiful tiny Seago marsh painting and an awesome splash of colour by my teacher and mentor Zheni Warner. My ancient Jack Russell Pippi and I then braved the cold to take a walk along the beach past Maggi Hambling’s ‘Scallop’ sculpture and along the edge of the wildlife reservoir. All in all a good days research and planning for next years solo show, I came away with a good helping of light, colour, ideas and inspiration for the new work I hope to produce early next year. Watch this space….!

Piano, Painting and Printing

A busy few months approach kicking off with a collaborative project at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley visitor centre. Adrian Lever, an established pianist, approached me a while ago to see if I would be interested in a project he was developing called ‘Confluence’. The concept was for him to perform a piano concert of improvisations with my paintings as the stimulus in collaboration with 2 other visual artists. The performance and exhibition at Cley next week will be the third performance, the other two were last year at The Cello Factory in London and Anteros in Norwich. For more information on the Confluence Project visit 

norfolk open studios 2017

Norfolk Open Studios starts very soon so I (along with a couple of hundred other Norfolk artists!) have been tidying, hoovering, and rearranging the studio so visitors can squeeze in and have a look around. Lots of paintings to look at as well as some little framed drawings and paintings. I am even working on some rare printmaking, translating my graphic style landscapes into linoprint. I will be open every weekend and bank holiday Monday between 27th May and 11th June 10-4pm. More Norfolk Open Studios 2017 here.

Pencil Sharpening
Book a workshop – treat yourself!

Don’t forget to book up a place on one of my summer workshops too, you can do this through my website and there are lots to choose from. Walking and drawing through the ancient woodland around Haddiscoe Church or Beccles Marshes or a studio day learning about a photographic transfer technique amongst others. Book Sarah Cannell Workshops here