Art Studio – Evening Self Portrait


I stare intensely at my eyes and they stare blackly back at me. I can’t find who I am. Every time I sit to look there’s someone different looking back at me. Today is an anxious, de-feminised version of myself. I can never connect with what I see; never like what I see. Instead I try to capture what it is I feel.

Self portrait, pastel on paper (in A3 sketchbook) © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Pastel on Paper (A3 sketchbook) 6 November 2015

The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once. Winters J 1989, ‘Sexing the Cherry’, London, Vintage

Heavy rain’s lashing against my bedroom window and there’s a strong wind whipping about the lane outside. I’m still wide awake in the small hours (3am to be precise) and the world feels like a black and quiet place.  In the darkness and the emptiness I realise there’s no point of reference for who I am. Maybe when I draw self portraits this is what I’m grasping for, a point of reference. I’m not sure, but it’s a compelling idea at 3 in the morning.

Staring at yourself intently for an hour and a half, more, is probably more than most people ever do. It can be strangely calming. The running commentary in your head finally switches off and you just feel the chalk moving in your hand, your fingers rubbing it hard into the paper. It’s a physical experience. Your hand follows your eye. Your eye watches the way the light falls across your face, the way it changes with every slight tilt of the head. You just let go.

An Intense Self

I watched a BBC programme The Face of Britain on British self portraits this afternoon (on BBC iPlayer until 3rd December) with the art historian Simon Shama. It  coincides with an exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery in London (until 4th January 2016). Shama was his usual engaging self, and the works he discussed particularly interesting, but something he said struck me as utterly wrong in the context of my own self portraits:

“They reveal that when an artist looks at themselves in the mirror it becomes the battleground between vanity and verity, flattery and truth.”

The artist looking in a mirror to drawing a self portrait © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Drawing a self portrait (it may end up in the bin because I over sprayed it with Spraymount and the paper became unworkable).

I don’t feel driven by any feelings of vanity or self flattery. Nothing could be further from my intentions. If there is a battle, often there is, it’s to discover who I am, to answer a question. Of course you want that to be the truth, but it’s more like trying to unearth the inside from what I see on the outside. But what’s on the inside feels consistently unknowable. All I can say for sure is that I feel things intensely. I’m an intense person. Maybe that shows in the drawings?

At any rate, I’m an intense person that’s gone down a rabbit hole. I’ll stop now before I go any further into the warren.

If you get the opportunity to see the programme or are lucky enough to get to the exhibition, I highly recommend it. It’s thought provoking, with some interesting work that you may not have seen before.

Back tomorrow for some sensible slow Sunday stitching with Kathy!

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Art Studio – Sunset in Pastel

Sunset Over Kea Downs

'Sunset from Kea Downs' Fine Art Drawing, Pastel on Paper © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Sunset Over Kea Downs

I packed up my pastels in a rucksack earlier this week, tucked a few sheets of A3 paper and a sturdy board under my arm and headed out for a walk. I wasn’t planning on going far, 6 miles or so.  I had no plan at all really, just the feeling that I wanted to find somewhere to draw. I left home later than I intended and it wasn’t long before sunset.


I headed out along Kea Downs which gives far reaching views towards the hill of Carn Brea, a local landmark with a memorial to the mine owning Basset family on top.

Field of Maize near Chacewater © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Footpath across a field of maize

I usually carry an Ordnance Survey map with me, even on local walks: I like to find new paths or tracks to explore and you never know what gem you’ll find next. I didn’t need the map for a familiar footpath across a field of maize, but when it’s grown taller than me I sometimes think I’ll be lost in it forever. The path goes down into the village of Chacewater and I headed out again on the other side through unfamiliar, stony bridle tracks, consulting the map every so often to check my progress.

At the top of one particularly steep bridleway there was a spectacular view over the valley. It was scarred with the usual abandoned mine workings and waste that haunt the landscape across Cornwall.

Close to sunset at Creegbrawse, nr Chacewater. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

View across the valley

By now it was close to sunset, the sun was hanging low in the sky and cast a pinkish glow over the landscape, but I still hadn’t seen anything in particular I wanted to draw.  I sat down beside a metal farm gate and watched a small herd of cattle as they came towards me to check me out, probably expecting to be fed.  I sat for a while watching them, rubbing their soft heads which they shook away like a horse shakes off a fly with its tail.

I decided to head back home down another unexplored track and gave up hope of finding anything inspiring. But back on Kea Downs road, after the sun had dipped below the horizon, the sky turned into an incredible spectacle of changing pinks and reds, sometimes washed with golds, all with a rich purply darkness for a backdrop. I decided I had nothing to lose.

I scrambled up on top of a high hedge covered in thorny brambles and started drawing the sky. The colours shifted and changed quickly until darkness fell.  I carried on drawing until I couldn’t tell whether I was picking up a grey or purple chalk any more, then packed up and trudged home.

'Sunset from Kea Downs' Fine Art Drawing, Pastel on Paper © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Sunset Over Kea Downs

Coldness had fallen with the dark.

If you enjoyed this, why not read about one of my collage pieces next?

Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Art Studio – line of trees


Line of Trees, small mixed media sketch by © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Small sketch in mixed media

I made this little sketch as the light was fading this evening. I’ve passed this line of trees on foot so many times recently and feel particularly drawn to them.  I haven’t always had time to sit and sketch.

Into the Trees

Line of trees © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Trees on the skyline

I’ve taken a few photos of the trees over the last week or so instead.

Sometimes, more often than not lately, I take a walk home from town instead of riding my bike or taking the bus.  It’s about 6 and a half miles. This particular section is like walking through a dark tunnel of trees that’s created by a hedgerow growing on either side.  As I wander along, looking at the ground, I notice there’s more light and see a gap in the hedge. Through the hedge on the other side of a field this line of trees catches my eye. Every time.

Line of trees © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Focussing on the texture

I’m especially drawn to this particular section of four trees. I see a metaphor here; I see me in the landscape. I could be the one grey cloud or the one dead tree.

Line of trees © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Realising it’s a specific part of the line of trees I love

I won’t dwell on the thoughts that are running through my head about this at the moment, but random thoughts like this are often where a piece of art begins for me. This time I’m thinking in terms of another improv quilt, but maybe there’ll be several pieces of art that come from these thoughts.

Line of trees © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Today. Watching under dull light and blanket cloud.


I finished reading Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place today too. I talked a bit about it last week, but today it still seems to be sinking in. Everything feels slow and hazy at the moment, but there was one quote Marsden quoted from the artist Peter Lanyon that seems pertinent and I wanted to share:

“I believe that landscape, the outside world of things and events larger than ourselves, is the proper place to find our deepest meanings.” (p126)

At the moment I’m just looking, wondering what it means to have meaning even.  I’m not in a good frame of mind for art, drawing or anything else really; it all feels like going through the motions. I can’t concentrate at all.  I think I just need to stitch. One at a time. And not think beyond that. Stitching is good, thinking is bad!

Until tomorrow, when I hope I’ll be a bit more lively for Slow Sunday Stitching with Kathy 🙂

See you then!

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Art Studio – finding a sense of place

Rising Ground, a search for the meaning of place, Philip Marsden, with watercolour Devoran Creek (Looking for a sense of place) © of Stephanie Boon, 2015

Good reading

I’m reading a fascinating book by Philip Marsden Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place. Lately, as I’ve mentioned before, I feel I’m trying to find a sense of meaning and have been considering how that relates to my being in this place, the place I inhabit every day.  I ponder whether really knowing the landscape, defining a sense of place, will help me know and understand myself any better.

It wasn’t much of surprise, when I was browsing in my local bookshop, that this title caught my eye. I’d never heard of it before, but was delighted to find that I’d heard, and know, a lot of the places described in the book: Philip Marsden seems to be searching for his own sense of place – and he lives within a 40 minute drive from here.

Much of the book is set in Cornwall and Marsden travels from the east of the county to the far west by foot. He explores the landscape through its history from the Neolithic age to the present, describing the renovation and discoveries about his own ageing home alongside. I realised that many of the books I’ve recently read are about people looking for, or describing, a connection to landscape or sense of place (Kathleen Jamie, Helen Macdonald, Robert Macfarlane, Hugh Thomson…). And they search on foot. Walking, it seems, is the only way.

Painting of Devoran Creek (Looking for a sense of place) © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Watercolour, pencil and graphite

It’s interesting to discover how many of these authors, Marsden included, relate their explorations of place to explorers or settlers of the past. They delve into how others viewed or inhabited the same landscape, how it changes and what this means.  As well as all the walking, there are hours spent in libraries, heads buried deep in books and historical documents.  There are meetings with experts from archaeologists and historians, to falconers and fine artists (some finer than others!).

And it all leaves me with an aching feeling that I don’t walk enough. Something is stopping me and I can’t put my finger on what it is.  I take familiar routes. I sit and I stare at the same skyline, the same fields, the same creeks, questioning how my sense of place, this place, is reflected in who I am. Or whether I’m reflected in what I can see in front of me. This week I sat on the quayside at Devoran, took out my paints and looked hard. I was looking for two hours.

Painting of Devoran Creek (Looking for a sense of place) © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Watercolour, pencil and graphite

And listening. Curlews were crying in their mournful way, geese were honking. There were people playing with their dogs nearby. I just felt empty. Like all I could do was look and see and not feel any connection. Depressed mood. It has a lot to answer for.

I came home, stuck my head back in the book and tried to fight the feeling that at the moment I’m living through someone else’s glorious landscape, instead of my own.

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Art Studio, Painting in the Countryside


Painting a watercolour of the English Countryside, © Stephanie Boon, 2015

The beginnings

I’m close to home. I lean my bike against a 5 bar gate and hop over into the field of barley on the other side. I kneel down and get out my watercolours to paint the English countryside I see in front of me. I’m entranced as the colours change with every shift in the breeze. Words tumble through my mind as I watch, but just one sticks: sway.

Dusk over Carn Brea. Watercolour on paper. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Watercolour painting ‘Dusk Over Carn Brea’

Sway in the Countryside

It’s a gentle word I think, in this context. It describes the countryside in front of me, but what really strikes me is that when I’m looking intently out at something, like I do when I’m painting or drawing from observation, what I’m actually looking for is a ‘way in’. I’ve been searching for a sense of meaningfulness lately and I wonder if engendering a deep connection to the countryside I inhabit will give me that. I have a feeling I can only get that connection by really looking.

I’ve watched these fields of barley over the last few weeks, seen how the colour changes under grey skies or deep red sunsets.  Listened to the swaying of the landscape. Felt the sway.

Field of barley in the English countryside. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Field of barley

Barely field in the English countryside at sunset. © Stephanie Boon, 2015


I noticed that nearby there are fields of dock and grasses that sway too.


English countryside. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Barn below a field of dock

But I kept coming back to the barley.

Field of barley in the English countryside. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Field edge

You might wonder why the word sway resonates with me. I wonder too.  Maybe you find the same?  A simple word, whatever it might be, just seems to encompass a larger, deeper feeling. Sway feels primitive to me, it’s something we instinctively do to soothe ourselves. My instinct is to keep the word to the fore, it feels like a good metaphor, and develop some work around it. No doubt that will mean reading, more sketches and paintings of the countryside around me, but ultimately I think it will lead to a quilt, a companion to Deepening.


The barely was cut this week, ready to be gathered up for winter cattle feed. Autumn is moving in and the countryside is about to change its clothes.  Me, I’m off to find a jumper and head out for another walk before I pick up the needle for an afternoon’s quilting. It looks like another wet weekend and I can’t think of anything better I’d rather do!

Have a great weekend

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Art Studio – watercolour painting


When I was in Norfolk recently I packed a tin of paints and some watercolour paper, hoping to be able to do some painting while I was there visiting family.

Glade, Sandringham. Watercolour paint pallette and sable brush. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Birthday paint tin!

I was given some money for my birthday a couple of days before we left and I bought a travel tin for my watercolour paints. (I need another tin like I need another quilt, but it was irresistible!) I spent some time deciding which colours I might need for the Norfolk landscape, but as it turned out the only painting I did was this sketch of a glade in Sandringham woods. Not very inspiring and not a great experience: I got covered in horse fly bites!

Glade, Sandringham. Watercolour painting on paper.  © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Glade, Sandringham. Watercolour and conte on paper (approximately A4)

Cambridge – painting exhibition

One hot, sunny day last week though we took a train journey to Cambridge and I got a watercolour fix I wasn’t expecting: The Fitzwilliam Museum was showing a painting exhibition Watercolour – Elements of Nature. Turner, Cozens, Constable, Cotman…the greats of the Romantic period were well represented alongside many others, from Nicholas Hilliard miniatures of the Tudor period to Cezanne in the 20th century.  All the paintings in the exhibition are from the Museum’s own collection. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many fantastic works side by side, to see different approaches and developments over time. The gallery was busy, but not like one of those so-called block-buster shows where you file through like sheep being dipped. You could take your time and spend as long as you wanted looking in detail at each and every painting. I was in my element. Kim was bored after about 10 seconds!!! (I’m lucky though, it may not have interested him very much, but he is patient and never hassles me to hurry up when I’m looking at art – he’d get short shrift if he tried!)

As part of the exhibition there were also sketchbooks in cabinets and examples of pigments, old paints and paintboxes that added to the romance of the genre.  There were even a few mussel shells on display…

Mussel shells and Pebbles. © Stephanie Boon, 2015.

Mussel shells and pebbles

What?! Say again?  Mussel shells!  They make perfect portable palettes!  (Another piece of useless information: Turner used squidged up bread for soaking up excess watercolour – nowadays we use tissue/toilet paper, or a sponge!)

Mussel shell painting palette. © Stephanie Boon, 2015.,

Innovative mussel shell palette!

When we got back to Norfolk Kim and I went for a nighttime stroll on the beach and I collected a generous handful to bring back with me. I find them on the beaches here at home sometimes, but where my parents live they’re washed up in great mounds.

Home – new watercolours

Back at home this week I blu-tacked a couple of art postcards above my desk, a reminder of the wonderful paintings I saw.  The beautiful red painting is by contemporary Scottish artist Barbara Rae. It was one of the first watercolours I was drawn to as I walked into the gallery, the red colours were almost luminous in the subdued light of the room.

Art postcards on a wall.  © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Art postcards from The Fitzwilliam Museum

Art postcard of a watercolour by Barbara Rae.

Art postcard above my desk of a watercolour painting by Barbara Rae

We got back late Tuesday evening and I couldn’t wait to get out and do some painting myself. I finally managed a couple of sketches on Thursday. I sat in a field about 5 minutes walk from home.  I’d spotted it before we went away, but there’s something about it that’s been in my mind for a while.

'Kea Downs' Watercolour painting on paper.  © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Field, Kea Downs.  Watercolour of paper (approximately A4)

Right now it’s shimmering with a crop of barley.  It’s giving me ideas.  I love the way nature does that.

'Kea Downs' Watercolour painting on paper.  © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Across Fields, Kea Downs. Watercolour and conte on paper (approximately A4)

I hope you enjoyed my first Art Studio post for a while.  Hopefully I’ll get it back on track to being a regular Saturday feature from now on.

Hope you’re having a good weekend so far?

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Improv quilting is calling my name!

Improv Quilting: Floating The Squares quilt, © Stephanie Boon, 2105

Floating the Squares

Hello! I’m glad you’re here today because I’m excited to show you my finished quilt top!  (It’s the first one I’ve made following an improv quilting ‘score’ from Sherri Lynn Wood’s book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood.) I’m still rather unimaginatively calling it ‘Floating the Squares‘, but I think I’m in love!  It took me a while to figure out the last section with so little fabric left – that’s one way to force yourself to improvise.  I knew it wouldn’t get much bigger in size and wanted to make sure it was balanced and flowing.

Imrpov Quilting: Floating The Squares quilt, © Stephanie Boon, 2105

Development of the ‘bottom’ section (the quilt is hanging up the other way on the wall)

Someone suggested that the large pink square on the left hand side in the picture above stood out too much, but that’s one of my favourite areas!  He suggested that was because of the orange!!! I can’t deny I love orange and I like the way the ‘path’ skirts around the square (and the way the same (smaller) shape is almost repeated on the adjacent edge), but what I love most is the way the eye is drawn to that side and takes the focal point away from the expected centre.  I think I might draw the eye to it even more when it comes to quilting it.  I’ve got to get some of my other projects quilted first though!


Improv Quilting: Floating The Squares quilt, © Stephanie Boon, 2105

Pastel drawing and the quilt top

When I tacked it to the wall in the sitting room I was surprised by the similarity in colours between the landscape sketch I’d propped up on top of the radiator and the quilt.  Strong blues, reds and orange, a slick of green.  Seeing the connection made me think about how I use colours to evoke place, and what else I could experiment with to evoke that in a quilt.  Shape, texture, maybe pattern.  Improv quilting is the way to explore further and I’m keen to move on. I wondered what I could learn from someone else’s approach to improv quilting but even after just this one experiment I’d say that what it does is broaden your thinking.  Making something in a way that’s characteristic of someone else’s practice isn’t where I plan to end up, it’s where I plan to begin.  I have strong images in my mind of what I want my own improv quilting to become.

Improv Quilting: Floating The Squares quilt, © Stephanie Boon, 2105

This way up! The finished top.

Improv Quilting with Strings

Exploring strings is up next in the book and I’m excited by the opportunities this technique might give me. I’ve been sorting through my fabrics and I’ve noticed I don’t have many strips that go the full width of fabric, which is what Sherri Lynn Wood suggests.  It strikes me I’m at a fork in the road: I could follow the score, which would mean buying fabric (and I have an edict that says I can’t!), or could develop the score my own way and improvise with what I have. I always did like unmarked paths best, how about you?

Linking up with My Quilt Infatuation and Finish it up Friday – the first in quite a while!  Have you seen Amanda Jean’s hand pieced and quilted stars quilt? Makes me feel guilty about my own Grandma’s Flower Garden quilt top, sitting patiently on the arm of my bedroom chair waiting for some borders and quilting…

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Happy improvising!
Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015

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Art Studio – filling up a sketchbook

The last two pages in my Moleskine sketchbook are done!  I filled it up with two watercolour sketches during the week and feel pretty satisfied that I can close the cover on this one.

Sketchbook watercolour 2015: Looking across Butney Banks. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Looking across Butney Banks 1,  July 2015

Both sketches are looking out at the same view across a nearby creek and were done one after the other.  I much prefer the last one: it feels lighter and more fluid, not so overworked (which I still blame on the poor quality paints!).

Sketchbook watercolour 2015: Looking across Butney Banks. © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Looking across Butney Banks 2, July 2015

It’s so peaceful and relaxing sitting on the quay gazing out across the water (or mud flats when the tide’s out), listening to curlews and buzzards.  At the moment the edges of the creek are rimmed with bright green samphire, which is inedible because of the amount of arsenic in it. Still, it adds a slick of beautiful colour to the view.

Why I loved this sketchbook

          The one thing I loved about the Moleskine sketchbook is the way both sides of paper are sized, so you can work across both pages like I have in these sketches, which isn’t possible with conventional watercolour paper.   It’s got a nice cold pressed paper (slightly textured), but I found that with the quality of these particular paints it would lift if I wasn’t careful (lift means that it gets a rough, very absorbent texture where the size lifts off).  It’s a perfect size for carrying around though and fits easily into a bag, or even a pocket.

Since I filled it up I bought a new (different) book but it’s not as good; I won’t be able to use it for watercolour as the paper’s too thin, so it’ll just be tucked in my bag for drawing only.  I’ve used a wide range of sketchbooks over the years, but I still like to experiment and try new ones. Which sketchbook would you recommend and why?  Maybe it’s one I should try?
Back tomorrow with some slow stitching, have a great weekend!

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Art Studio – sketchbook landscapes

I’ve been out on my bike a bit this week, not far from home. The weather’s been too good to sit inside all day and I’ve needed sky and fresh air to help me back into a creative routine.

After several months of uncertainty and anxiety I suppose it’s not surprising I feel uncertain and anxious about my work too: I’ve lost my way.  It’s hard to know where to pick up the pieces again.  I decided the best way to overcome this block is to just do something.  And do it without a bigger plan. I’ve been carrying a pocket size sketchbook around with me and here are a few landscapes that caught my eye when I was out and about.

Samphire, Devoran, June 2015 - watercolour and pencil sketch (A6), © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Samphire, Devoran, June 2015


Water’s Edge (from Point Quay), June 2015



Victoria Square, Truro (from Costa), June 2015

Sketchbook watercolour - salt marsh Devoran, 2015 © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Butney Banks, Devoran, July 2015

Sketchbook watercolour - salt marsh Devoran, 2015 © Stephanie Boon, 2015

Butney Banks (Devoran Salt Marsh), July 2015

I’ve been feeling quite negative about these sketches: the paper kept lifting after just one layer of watercolour; my student quality paints felt slimy and dull (I haven’t used this quality paint since before I was an undergraduate, but financial constraints means needs must. I much prefer artists’ quality paint – you can find out a bit about the difference in this great short video). Eventually I told myself that ‘a bad artist blames her tools’ (in my mother’s voice of course!) and to just go with it and see what I could make happen. On reflection I don’t think they’re so bad, for what they are! I plan to carry on and make some more – I just wish I could stop being so ‘literal’ with what I draw.

What do you do when you hit a creative block?  Next week I plan to share some ideas I like to try when I feel stuck, so pop by and and share what helps you too.

Until next time, have a very creative weekend!

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