Artist on File: Sarah Poppleton
Sarah Poppleton is bemused to find herself the subject of an artist profile, as she joined HVA only recently and feels that there are many more worthy ‘subjects’. However she is passionate about her painting and talks enthusiastically about it. She has family connections in Cornwall and frequently heads down there to gather material for her light-filled paintings of sky and coastline. Fiona Gaskell finds out what makes her tick.
It must come as a surprise to the Open Studios visitors who flocked in such numbers to Sarah’s house this year to discover that she has no formal art qualifications beyond A level. She found art a great release from the rigours of maths and science in the sixth form, but she followed the scientific path at university and beyond.
It was only after her youngest child started school that she started at an art class with the abstract artist, Linda Smith, to appease the overwhelming need to be creative. Six years on, she still goes every week but now tends to work independently on her own projects. However, she values Linda’s critical eye enormously, and enjoys the camaraderie. Initially she tried watercolours, at which Sarah says she “failed abysmally!”, so she was advised to try oils and discovered it was her natural medium. Since then she has gone on from strength to strength.
“I work fast initially to get down what is in my head” says Sarah, “then when the painting is almost done I put it on the side and ponder it for a few weeks while working on something else. That way I try to resolve the issues, hopefully without overdoing it.” She admits that she is a perfectionist, and it can be hard for her to know when to stop and to avoid losing what is good. “My painting is often about trying to convey a particular feeling about the light on that day, the warmth of the sun on your skin, or the expansiveness of what you can see. I love to see the big dome of the sky, as is often the case in Cornwall or high on the Dunstable Downs. It is exhilarating!”
One of the paintings she is proudest of is Reaching Up. In this painting she was challenging herself to move out of her comfort zone into brighter colours. She tried to capture the pale tones of the birch tree against the incredibly blue sky that she felt was full of hope and anticipation on that early spring day. This painting was blocked in using red with pale colours on top, which somehow appears to make it shimmer and exaggerates the slightly dizzy feeling of looking upwards.
Another painting she is proud of is Incoming Tide, and she says“I struggled to get the effect I wanted – sunlight, ripples and the reflection of the sand underneath the water, but I am pleased with the result.” This picture is currently on display at the Copper Beech Gallery, near Hitchin.
“Painting is a journey to explore what you can achieve, you can never stand still,” says Sarah. “I am trying to make my work less descriptive, to emphasise the mark making, and to make my painting looser while still conveying the particular light effect that excites me.” Working en plein air if possible, she is getting used to the practicalities of keeping warm even in the snow and of anchoring the easel with tent pegs to make it secure in the wind. Canvases have been discarded in favour of canvas boards as too many canvases were damaged by the elements. Sometimes Sarah works in her home studio from sketches and photos to fit her painting around the school run. Alternatively, she might start a painting from a photo then take it back out into the fields in order to finish it in situ to get the light just right. She particularly loves the light of the early morning.
Key influences on her work are Turner, Alfred Sisley, John Singer Sargent and Ken Howard. She admires the Cornish artist Andrew Tozer and the artists of the Plein Air Brotherhood who exhibit at the A & K Wilson gallery in Harpenden. She also follows the very informative blog of the plein air artist, Haidee-Jo Summers (haideejo.blogspot.com). She is enthusiastic about expressive art that uses loose, juicy marks and Cornish colours.
“I was amazed at how well received our first Open Studios was,” says Sarah, “but it was partly as a result of being three artists in one place.” She shared her home exhibition with fellow HVA artists, Debbie Knight and Vanessa Jayne Smyth, “who were really fun to work with,” and they had almost 250 visitors and sold quite a number of paintings. “I was delighted by the reaction of visitors to our work – they all seemed to find something in different pieces they could identify with, and it was lovely to chat with them all.” As a result she obtained her first commission and she was invited to exhibit at the Copper Beech Gallery. This is a delightful art gallery and vintage tea room set in a 400 year old barn, which displays work from a diverse range of artists.
Also, together with Debbie, Vanessa and HVA member Liz Sergeant, Sarah is organising a fund raising exhibition at St John’s Church, Harpenden, to take place in May 2014, following the success and fun of a similar exhibition she organised there in 2011. Looking further into the future, Sarah would like to undertake an art degree when her three children are older and more independent. Ultimately she would love to move with her husband to Cornwall, but that is a very distant prospect !
To see more of Sarah’s work please go to www.sarahpoppleton.co.uk and the Copper Beech Art Gallery, Wymondley Hall Farm, Priory Lane, Little Wymondley, Near Hitchin, Herts SG4 7HE www.copperbeechartgallery.com .
Linda Smith, artist and art tutor, can be contacted on 01582 766032.
By FIONA GASKELL