Mall Galleries news

Updates from Mall Galleries - the national focal point for contemporary figurative art, and home to the Federation of British Artists. Includes written content and photo essays from our Exhibitions, Call for Entries, Art Consultancy.

Tim Benson: Keep Painting

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On Friday 20 March, President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters Tim Benson released this message on his Instagram page encouraging artists to carry on creating during this time.

We would like to share this inspiring message from one of our most popular member artists. 

The full text of Tim’s call to Keep Painting can be found below




A post shared by Tim Benson (@timbensonart) on


When it became evident that the coronavirus was getting serious, and that we might all end up being in lockdown, or unable to carry on with our daily routines, I actually found it really, really depressing. 

And I sort of, I wouldn't say I panicked, but I definitely didn't see a bright future for the next few weeks at least. And I think that that is still the case, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. 

But I tried to, eventually, when the sort of panic subsided, I tried to slightly reframe it and think, “how can I use this as an opportunity?” 

And when I mean opportunity, I mean for art, for painting. It is a rare occasion where actually your hand is forced, and for me, certainly, it means that I can really just concentrate on painting, which really rarely happens. I normally have to balance the painting with various other things: teaching, lectures, etc.

But it really has clarified in my mind what the next few weeks hold. You've got to try to sort of look at the positives. I just think it's a really good opportunity to get some work done. 

I've got absolutely no idea whether that work's going to be any good or not, but it really is just a good opportunity. So for everybody out there who's feeling like they don't know the way forward or able to put one foot in front of the other, I hear that and I completely understand. 

But if you can, as artists, channel that into productivity and getting some work done, then I think that's a really, really good outcome. 

So what I'm saying is, whether you work from home or if you can get into the studio, then just try to get in there and just channel all the misery that's going on into something productive. 

And hopefully, we can come out on the other side and the artistic community can be richer for it. 


Since Friday's post, Tim has been posting a series of works to his social media profiles to keep spirits up.

Follow him:

Tim Benson is the President of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and a member of the New English Art Club and Royal Society of Portrait Painters. 

Discover his work in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition

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Tim Benson

Frances Bell Paints Commissioner Cressida Dick to Celebrate the Met’s 100 Years of Women

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A portrait of the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Cressida Dick has been unveiled to mark the centenary of women in the Met.

Newly appointed member of Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Frances Bell RP, created the oil painting which has taken its place at the Met Police Training School in Hendon, alongside the paintings of 26 former Commissioners. They include Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, who on 22 November 1918, officially announced that the Met would have female police officers for the first time.

Normally painted at the end of a Commissioner’s five years in office, the idea to commission Cressida’s portrait early was borne during the celebrations to mark that very decision and the bravery of those pioneers of the past, and achievements of current Met women. Painting the first female Commissioner, during these celebrations would capture the mood and feeling of the moment, and inspire future Met people.

Painted in Frances Bell’s studio over more than 20-hours of sittings, the portrait depicts the Commissioner against the backdrop of a map of London - symbolising her long policing career in London and personal affinity with the Capital.  In contrast to other portraits Cressida sat wearing her shirt uniform and no tunic.

Commissioner Cressida Dick, said: “The strength of feeling for the portrait surprised me, but I understand and appreciate that it is an important part of the 100-years celebrations, symbolises the nature of the current Met and maybe important in inspiring the next generation of Met people.  I am very grateful to the artist, Frances Bell who put me at great ease and made the whole process an interesting and surprisingly enjoyable one.”

Frances Bell, who elected as a member of prestigious Royal Society of Portrait Painters Portrait last year, said: “I was thrilled to receive the instruction to paint the Commissioner through the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. It’s such a fine occasion to mark with an art work, as portraits can represent historic moments so well. 100 years of women in our police, and a female Commissioner on this anniversary is the kind of coincidence a painter can appreciate.”

Enquire About Commissioning a Portrait


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Cressida Dick by Frances Bell RP

Reception Selection: Ania Hobson

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Our latest Reception Selection features work by BP Young Portrait Artist 2018, Ania Hobson. Here, Hobson tells us about her artistic influences and how she found her distinctive style.

You are currently exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in Personal Structures, a group show at the European Cultural Centre. How did that come about?

I got an official invitation from the GAA Foundation which is a non-profit organisation. They hold exhibitions at the European Culture Centre in Venice. You have to find sponsors, which I managed to do.

I wanted to do a whole theme on the Parisian café culture. When I visited, I really enjoyed the whole authentic feel that their cafés have. It was my first time in Paris and I went with my cousins and my sister. I wanted to capture young girls enjoying themselves, casually having coffee and wine. You know the whole café feel in Paris, it's just very relaxed. Then you've got the neon lights which are very unforgiving on the faces. I felt I really wanted to capture that and show that in Venice.

Ania Hobson Evening in Monmarte Oil, 124 x 124 cm, £5,330

And your Reception Selection is a continuation of this Parisian series, right?

Yes! I wanted to bring a bit of what I have in Venice into London. I'm still really enjoying that Parisian scene, so I want to continue showing what I've been working on with this project.

Most of your work features family and friends – what is it about them that you enjoy painting? 

I feel a lot more comfortable with my family and friends and I think they also know what to expect from me. It's so important as a portrait painter to be at ease with somebody that you're painting because otherwise, it can show in your painting. It can become quite constricted. I think my family knows what to expect and they're less critical as well.

They know my style very well and they're comfortable in front of me. I have painted strangers before but I like to build up a friendship with them too. I don't want to feel like I'm under pressure with a portrait painting. I like to take my time and I want them to feel happy with whatever they've commissioned.

Is there anyone you would love to paint? 

I would love to paint Tracey Emin. I just think she's got such a great face. I never used to actually like her work, but the older I become, the more I understand it and the more I see where she's coming from. Now, researching into her more, I love what she's doing and as a female artist, I love that she comes across so confident. It's all about her personal life and I just think, she's somebody that I'd really want to paint.

I love the writing, "I Want My Time with You", she's got at St Pancras International in London. It's just so powerful and everyone can relate to it.

Ania Hobson Half a Glass Oil, 121 x 91 cm, £4,790

Your paintings are instantly recognisable. How did you find your artistic style?

I think when I was studying, I was still trying to grasp the technique of oil and it just seemed quite scary. It takes quite a lot of practise to get the hang of it and when I left university I had a bit more freedom. I just felt a bit constricted sometimes at university. People were telling me things I shouldn't be doing or sending me in a direction that I didn't want to go. In art, it's really important to do what you feel is best. That's what art is at the end of the day: what you produce and how you want to produce it. How I found my style was, I went through this really bad phase of painter's block and for months I didn't paint. I was almost crying over it because I had this creative urge, but nothing was coming out. 

Then I did a painting of myself, 'Ania' (2017), and it was the first time that I got into the BP Portrait Awards. For me, that was a massive turning point. I realised they must be seeing something that they like. It was at that time I continued with that style and I think it's become more exaggerated since. Actually, people are now sort of recognising my style, which I think is really important [for a painter].

Do you find painting self-portraits helpful?

I do use myself as a muse quite a lot, but it's weird, I'll paint myself but I'm not painting it because it's me. I almost see it as another person, it's quite strange. And also how you see yourself is quite different to how other people see you. People will say, "Oh you've painted your sister" and I'll say "No, that's me." They're picking up on similarities. Or even with my cousin they'll ask, "Is that you?" It's quite interesting.

Ania Hobson Social Nights Oil, 42 x 62 cm, £2,300

What painters are you influenced by?

I love Alice Neel for her movement of paint. She's not so worried about getting the proportions correct or focusing on all the little details, like painting each individual hair. It's so free and luscious and enjoyable to look at. Kehinde Wiley as well, I love his stuff purely for the power he can produce with his paintings. They just come across so strong and powerful. He mimics the work of Old Masters but he's doing that with a modern twist. Also, Lucian Freud for his application of paint. 

The people in your paintings are always incredibly stylish. Is this something you coordinate?

Sometimes. Again, this goes back to being comfortable with the people you paint. If I'm using somebody from my family or friend group, I can easily say to them, "Oh do you mind wearing this coat or do you mind wearing something patterned?" I do love involving fashion in my paintings. It's contemporary. It's modern. It's something the people can relate to. People will say I love that Burberry coat or those boots. It's something that David Hockney does. He'll pick out people's fashion in his portraits. Chloe Wise does the same. I went to her show in London (at Almine Rech) and it's really appealing to our generation. 

Ania Hobson Paris at Night Oil, 42 x 62 cm, £3,800

It's interesting to compare your work with Chloe Wise. Your subjects' clothes are generally quite structural as are your backgrounds, while Wise paints hers in more floaty materials against soft backdrops.

It's definitely a structural thing. And that comes into the whole perspective as well that it's quite easy to create these shapes. For me, I like looking at a portrait for the shapes it can create and the figure and the interior. With my BP portrait, 'A Portrait of Two Female Painters' (2018), it was all about the shapes and the foot coming forward. An interesting perspective almost makes you feel more involved in the painting. I don't like to get it correct, but it sort of makes your head go to the side. It's like looking at a building and it's so tall you slightly wobble on your feet. It's almost like looking back into a painting where the perspective is somehow wrong. 

The painting of the girls sitting around in Paris is kind of like that. You almost feel like you're in the conversation a little bit because of the perspective of the painting.

Exactly, for the viewer to run their eye across the painting and feel like they're involved whether they're standing up or they're down below. My portraits have always got to have some sort of weird perspective.


Ania Hobson Thibaut Oil, 81 x 65 cm, £3,900

How has winning the BP Young Artist Award affected your career?

It's definitely helped. I got a lot of interest suddenly. My emails were just going off like crazy. It was really strange. I do think that's how the exhibition in Venice came about – through all the exposure. For now, I'm just trying to keep that ball rolling, lining up shows and keeping people interested. Yeah, it's helped massively.

How did you become involved with Mall Galleries?

I entered the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP) Annual Exhibition 2016 and that was one of the first competitions that I have ever been involved in and then they invited me to sell work via Buy Art | Buy Now and it sort of continued through that really.

I think they've been great in giving me advice. I've always visited the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Exhibition and I think that it's so great and that they give artists these opportunities as well as showcasing their work. And with young artists especially – giving people that push to encourage what they're doing.

View Ania Hobson's Reception Selection on Buy Art | Buy Now. 

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Evening in Montmartre by Ania Hobson

A Personal History of Prison Horticulture

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A conversation about the healing power of prison horticulture and the symbolism of stories with Hannah Wright, author of Outside Time and artist Brian Dunce PS.

It’s hard to believe that Britain’s prison system was once completely self-sufficient. Just twenty-five years ago, HMP Farm & Gardens employed 2,000 prisoners annually, generating a profit of over £3 million and producing enough food to feed 47,000 inmates three times a day. Not only did these farms provide a source of work and food for inmates, they also created a sense of duty, responsibility and care that was crucial to the prisoner’s peace of mind. Prison farms have since become a thing of the past. As the UK became an increasingly urban nation and privatisation took hold, agricultural work waned. This shift was reflected in prisons, with a large number of farms being sold.

Hannah Wright, an environmental psychologist and author, has recorded this untold history in a new book called Outside Time. Charting the rise, decline and revival of prison farming, Wright begins with the establishment of the first prison farm in Dartmoor in 1852 and continues right up to the present. An ardent champion of agriculture as therapy, Wright explains, “It was designed around working the land because it was seen as being good for your health, good for your constitution.

Outside Time by Hannah Wright

Outside Time was brought to our attention by one of our artists Brian Dunce. A longtime friend of Wright, Dunce volunteered himself to design the cover. The result is a testament to the pair’s deep friendship and the artist's talent for interpreting stories in a visual way.

The cover is heavily imbued with multiple layers of symbolism and metaphor which emerged from several conversations between Wright and Dunce. Its muddy garnet colouring is a nod to Bev’s passion for a particular rare breed of cattle called Lincoln Red. “As the name suggests it has a very beautiful colouring and Brian took the colour and texture of the fur of the animal and incorporated it into the painterly strokes,” Wright explains.

The lines which traverse the cover are deliberately ambiguous. While they might, most obviously, be perceived to be prison bars, the author points out that they also resemble furrows in the earth. “The references to land are implicit in it.”

Wright describes Dunce as having an “encyclopedic knowledge” of typography. “What I chose was hand lettering and it was based on something that Picasso had written, which was a cover for one of his books and I restyled it,” explains the artist. “This was partly because it was brush lettering, rather than tap style. I wanted again something that might be associated with the way something would be roughly written on a wall.” It’s also a reference to an old photograph Wright found at the National Justice Museum archive which depicts prisoners walking back to Dartmoor prison. “They’re wearing these dark donkey jackets and on the back it says, ‘DP’ meaning Dartmoor Prison and there are three horizontal lines which symbolically meant that they were allowed outside of the gates. If they had patches sewn onto their clothes then they weren’t allowed outside. I really liked that symbolism and that style; the white lettering painted on,” Wright recalls.


A prisoner and member of staff examine a piglet. Image Credit: National Justice Museum, Nottingham.

Wright tackles the subject from a personal perspective – her father, Bev, worked for the prison service, and so she grew up on prison farms. It was the death of her father which triggered Wright’s desire to write the book. She distinctly remembers a visit from Bev’s former boss a week before he passed away. “The two of them talked about this extraordinary history that had existed but no one had catalogued,” Wright recalls. It was at the funeral, meeting many of her father’s old colleagues, that she realised this was a “one-off opportunity to approach these people which I would not have had under other circumstances.” She spent the next two years interviewing them and collecting material.

The result is a book which is part memoir, part social history and part tribute to her father. She writes of a childhood spent on prison farms interwoven with detailed research into the history of prison farming and growing. Wright explores the therapeutic nature of gardening and the way that caring for animals is therapeutic for even the most hardened of criminals.

Unaccompanied prisoners carrying milk pails as they return to Dartmoor prison 'DP', March 1957. Image Credit: National Justice Museum, Nottingham. 

In the book’s foreword, Lord David Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (1995-2001) writes of his hopes “that Outside Time will be read by those currently responsible for a prison system that is disfigured by the amount of time prisoners have to spend locked up inside their cell, which is no place for picking up skills that are essential if they are to live useful and law-abiding lives on release.”

It seems that Ramsbotham’s wish may have been somewhat prophetic. Today, Wright tells me, the book is used widely in prison as a reference text by those interested in reintroducing farming into the system. A development she hopes will continue. Wright concludes, “It’s putting growth at the centre of life again.”

Outside Time is available to buy at the special price £12.99 at

You can contact Brian Dunce PS about paintings and commissions here

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George Jackson wins the Hermione Hammond Drawing Award 2019

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Established in 2012, the Hermione Hammond Drawing Award was created in memory of the artist Hermione Hammond (1910-2005) to encourage young talent to develop their drawing skills.

George Jackson, 21 years old and studying at Wimbledon College of Arts, has won the first prize of £2,000 in this year’s Hermione Hammond Drawing Award for his ink drawing of a ‘man having his arm ravaged by a black dog’.  

Dominika Wroblewska, 26, studying at Manchester School of Art has won the runner-up prize of Cass Art vouchers worth £250 for her drawing Mine Shaft Lid Hauling, which documents the Technical Speleological Group hauling an 800kg steel lid to be secured on a mine shaft on top of a hill in winds of up to 40 miles per hour.

 ‘Black Dog Bite’ by George Jackson, Ink on paper, 59 x 42 cm, 2018

Guest Judge Charles Williams led the panel of four judges representing Hermione Hammond’s family and Mall Galleries. Charles is a member of the New English Art Club, the Royal Watercolour Society and the Small Paintings Group. He teaches drawing and has begun his own PhD studies at Canterbury Christ Church University.

The panel awarded the first prize to George for Black Dog Bite, about which Charles says, “It’s great to see the spirit of British satirical pen and ink work, the tradition of Gillray, Rowlandson, Searle and Scarfe, is still going strong in young, contemporary visual art. The whole set of work that George submitted was excellent and bodes well for the future and it was hard to make a choice!”

‘Mine Shaft Lid Hauling’ by Dominika Wroblewska, Technical pen, 13 x 19 cm, 2019

Charles says about runner-up Dominika’s drawing in technical pen, “Dominika submitted a fascinating set of ethnographic drawings, recording caving activity in adverse weather conditions by specialist engineers, drawings that can function as data as well as aesthetic objects. Drawing is used for all sorts of things; what we tend to think of as the traditional skill of life-drawing, for example, was only really formulated as part of the eighteenth-century Academic project of making history-paintings, and this work reflects that.”

Charles went on to say, “Judging this competition was particularly difficult. There were some excellent examples of what drawing can be and another set of judges could have chosen two completely different and equally compelling winners. In the end one has to go with one’s own interests and fixations, though.”


Ed Burkes has been awarded the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award


Foundation Derbyshire and Mall Galleries are pleased to announce Ed Burkes as the winner of the eighth Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award. The biennial award brings a rising artist to Derbyshire to produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people.

As one of the largest art awards in the country, the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award provides the successful artist with a nine-month residency, a bursary of £18,000, a studio, contribution to the cost of materials, ongoing support and mentoring from the University of Derby’s College of Arts, and two solo shows in Derby and London.

Artist Ed Burkes will take up his residency in Derby in October 2019, when he will be based in Banks Mill Studios, working towards a solo exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2020, which travels to Mall Galleries in 2021.

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2016 with a BA in Fine Art, Ed’s work has been selected for a number of group exhibitions, including Saatchi Invest in Art and FBA Futures 2017, shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries and exhibited at London Art Fair with Arusha Gallery. In 2016, he won the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Travel to Italy Award.

Ed Burkes on the Isles of Scilly (2018)

Ed has said that his work “is sparked from a commonplace situation: A friend drinking coffee, a buddy pulling up his socks, someone browsing the fruit and veg section of Tesco Express. Through the process of painting, these preliminary considerations begin to wobble out of sync to a point where their distinctiveness as a primary source slip away.” The bright colours and bold compositions give the everyday scenes a mythic and heroic air.

During his residency, Ed will contribute five days of teaching at the University of Derby’s College of Arts and lead a series of educational workshops in the community, supported by funding from Rolls-Royce plc. The collaboration with the University of Derby’s College of Arts will enable art students to gain valuable insight from the experience and practices of a working artist.

Ed said, “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to spend nine months delving into the historical intrigues that Derbyshire has to offer. Engaging with the wider community of the contemporary art world with a teaching fellowship at Derby University is something I am incredibly excited by and can’t wait to get started. I am going to produce a large, ambitious, and historically grounded body of work from the premise ‘sense of place’ and will be looking to concretise and foster long term connections and relations.”

Ed Burkes Old Boy (Red and Blue)

Rachael Grime, Chief Executive of Foundation Derbyshire said: “We are delighted that Ed is joining us at this really exciting stage in the Award’s development. We can’t wait to see how he responds to our county and brings his exceptional talent to bear on the residency”.

In 2019, in a new collaboration between the Award and Mall Galleries, past exhibitors of FBA Futures, the UK’s largest annual survey of emerging figurative art, were invited to be considered for this exciting residency.

The nine-month residency runs from 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020.  The final exhibition will be held at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in late 2020 and at Mall Galleries in January 2021. Watch this space for updates as Ed’s residency unfolds.

Andrea Santi wins the Alfred Teddy Smith & Zsuzsi Roboz Award


21-year-old Italian artist Andrea Santi submitted work for the first time to a Mall Galleries Call for Entries and was selected for The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition. This week at the exhibition’s private view, Andrea won the £5,000 Alfred Teddy Smith & Zsuzsi Roboz Award for a pencil drawing of her mother. Andrea tells us more about the experience.

‘I’m only just realising what’s happened’ says Andrea. ‘It’s been a wonderful surprise. I feel extremely proud of myself, but I still don’t believe that the judges picked my little work from all the beautiful art that was submitted to the exhibition. I feel so grateful.’

The Alfred Teddy Smith & Zsuzsi Roboz Award is presented to an artist aged 35 or under, for demonstrating traditional skills in an original way. Created in graphite, Mum is almost photographic in its detail and realism, and the judges were impressed by Andrea’s sensitive portrayal of ageing skin.

Mum by Andrea Santi: Graphite, 35 x 33 cm - £1,100

Mum is one of the works by just 61 artists selected from 800 submitted for the exhibition, which is recognised as foremost in its field. The Pastel Society is a magnet for brilliant exponents of dry media, showing the work of leading contemporary artists as well as encouraging work by new artists yet to be established.

Mum is highly personal. It’s a portrait of the beautiful person who is my mother. She’s a wonderful and strong woman, and I hope the portrait shows something of our relationship and my love for her, as well as a physical likeness.’

‘When I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, drawings were primarily used as studies for painting. I like to work with graphite because drawing has its own autonomy and importance. It’s great to have a community like The Pastel Society which is dedicated to showcasing dry media.’

Andrea Santi working in her studio.

Andrea’s mother was shocked when her portrait attracted such a large cash prize. ‘She told me it was one of her happiest days ever! She was proud both of me and of being the subject of the winning work. All my family is super excited, and I’m so glad about it because they’ve always supported me and let me follow my passions, and now I want to show them that it was worth it.’

On the back of this success, Andrea plans to submit work to the New English Art Club’s Call for Entries, which closes on 22 February, and to the Royal Society of British Artists, whose Call for Entries is open until 15 March. ‘I would definitely encourage other artists to submit’ she says.

You can see Mum and the 280 other dry media works on display in The Pastel Society Exhibition until 16 February. The whole exhibition catalogue is also available to browse and buy online.

Find out more about The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2019

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Mum by Andrea Santi

Mohammed Sami Wins the Hottinger Prize at FBA Futures 2019


The painter Mohammed Sami has won the Hottinger Prize at this year's FBA Futures for his painting Unedited Still-Life.

The Hottinger Award for Excellence is presented annually to an outstanding artist exhibiting in Mall Galleries' graduate exhibition, FBA Futures. A work or works by the winning artist are then entered into the Hottinger Collection.

Unedited Still-Life by Mohammed Sami

Mohammed's practice deals explicitly with trauma and memory. The artist lived through seven wars in his native Iraq before emigrating to Sweden and eventually to London where he studied at Goldsmiths. Mohammed's paintings are imbued with the lived experience of PTSD from those wars, which reverberates like shockwaves through the materiality of his work; angles are disorientating; there are recurrent motifs of sleeping aids; visual evidence of loud crashes; phones ringing off the hook with bad news.

Tomi Olopade was awarded the runner up prize by Hottinger: a commission to produce a new work for their collection. Born in London to a Nigerian family, Olopade started out as an illustrator, gaining recognition from musicians such as Joey Badass and Maverick Sabre before he ultimately decided to pursue fine art. The works he presented in FBA Futures explore the culture of hair within the black community.

Mohammed Sami receiving the Hottinger Prize for Excellence from CEO Alastair Hunter for his painting Unedited Still-Life.

Tomi Olopade with his painting, Amy's Bedroom.

Find out more about FBA Futures 2019

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Unedited Still-Life by Mohammed Sami

Estelle Lovatt FRSA: 'Art Expert' in Residence


What did our 'Art Expert in Residence' Estelle Lovatt think of her first Mall Galleries residency day?

I was thrilled to be ‘Art Expert in Residence’ at the FBA Futures 2019 Exhibition. I also wasn’t sure what to expect, as total strangers were invited to join me at my table in the Mall Galleries café, to discuss any question about art, from the exhibition itself, through to ideas around art making, and art market insights.

As a freelance art critic, who has trained as a fine artist, I have the experience of being on both sides of the canvas, but not both sides of the table. Sitting at my designated table, I wondered whether I would feel like I was speed-dating for an art chat. Or be more like Marina Abramovic at her performance ‘The Artist Is Present’.

My table became a place for gallery-goers to rest their feet and eyes, whilst talking ‘art’ with me.  I heard lovely comments from people who said how much they liked the exhibition: 'it’s getting better and better…firing on all cylinders…interesting…impressive'!  Several exchanges were very short - a few seconds, but still interesting, some chatted for minutes, others longer.

One of the exhibiting artists, Keron Beattie, who had impressed me with his lead and glass figures, came to chat with his friends.  We talked with a primary school teacher about what scale is the right scale to make art, as Beattie’s settles at 6 cms. Another visitor dropped by my table for a chinwag, whilst waiting to go to the talk that was taking place alongside the exhibition.  He thought the art 'looked so vibrant'.

Me and my newly-made art-talking-table-friends created a ‘community’ in which to engage, schmooze and widen our understanding, appreciation and tolerance of our art world.

There were no boring conversations, and it was great to talk about art from the Renaissance to the YBAs – both giving guidance specifically on the individual’s career or work, or more generally the wider subject minus toffee-nosed art-world gobbledygook, often heard, talking about contemporary art and the role of the artist today.

Next time you see me at my table, please do come and join me.

Estelle Lovatt FRSA


More 2019 ‘Art Expert in Residence’ dates to be confirmed soon. 

Sign up to our newsletter to find out when the next 'Art Expert in Residence' will be. 


John Busby Seabird Drawing Course Bursaries


The SWLA offers three bursaries for places on The John Busby Seabird Drawing Course. The next week-long course is to be held in June 2019 at seabird colonies around Dunbar and the Firth of Forth. This is a fantastic opportunity to work alongside around 20 established and enthusiastic artists, and get an insight into the diverse approaches that those artists have to working in the field.

Find out more and apply for the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course Bursary

Kittie Jones course tutor

"I have had the privilege of being involved in the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course since 2012 when it changed the direction of my work - opening my eyes to new possibilities and putting me in contact with an international group of like-minded people. I am now lucky enough to be on the tutor team, and I watch with interest each year as the students go through the week, experiencing the challenges and triumphs of working outdoors."

Every year the SWLA fundraises in order to provide bursary places for the course. This year, five diverse artists took part in the scheme, each on a different creative journey. Below, they outline some of their experiences of the week.


Adele Pound

"Fieldwork has always been important in my work, however before the course I was aware I had become stuck and lost abilities that I once had. Fieldwork calls for a specific set of skills: accessing and identifying birds, the logistics of deciding what kit to take, use of optics and strategies to deal with weather conditions. These were beyond the scope of my conventional fine art education. As a result, I had rarely met artists who use fieldwork in their practice and had essentially invented this for myself, working largely in isolation since graduating with inevitable limitations in what I could achieve.

The course really opened my eyes to what is possible in the field. The tutors and the other participants demonstrated to me throughout how much more ambitious I might be. I saw materials used that I would never have imagined taking into the field. I discovered I was able to cope with weather conditions I would not have attempted to work in if left to my own devices. The supportiveness, warmth and enthusiasm of the group helped me to engage with and enjoy the challenges. I was surprised by what I was able to achieve by the end of the week and by how much my thinking had changed.

The tutors were inspiring. Each brought different aspects and personalities and their passion and enthusiasm was always apparent. It was obvious that their overriding concern was for everyone to get as much as possible from the week. Despite the large size of the group, they were sensitive to the struggles of each individual. Several times I received just the advice I needed to help me progress, whether it was to try a different approach or to persevere with a drawing I had given up on. There was genuine delight whenever someone had a breakthrough."


Emily Ingrey-Counter

"One of the highlights for me was getting to know other artists and sharing our experiences at the end of each day. Naturally I discovered that in the emotional highs and lows of any given day I was certainly not alone. Although the prospect of sharing our work with the whole group was daunting, I found the feedback surprisingly encouraging.

Another highlight of the week was visiting the Bass Rock. The weather, winds and swells were in the right alignment as both groups were able to get access to the gannet colony for a whole day. A huge privilege. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and quite fantastic! I felt like I had landed on another planet, with 150,000 inhabitants tolerating our presence. Due to the wind, the birds were constantly in flight around us hovering, landing and taking off. We drew with intensity and focus for about seven hours. Amazing! The following day the swells were too strong to land on the island so we sketched from the boat for an hour - this was a great way to develop fast sketches, but challenging in terms of motion sickness!

The informal tutor guidance throughout the week was really helpful. I was reminded of some key elements that had been creeping out of my drawings - “keep a breathing space in your picture”, “what excites you about your chosen subject matter?” and “think about keeping the energy in your work”. Through many discussions with the tutors and artists on the course I was encouraged to value what I do, something that’s easy to lose sight of. I am really grateful to the SWLA for making this week possible. I hope the things I have learned will continue to echo through my work. It was such a privilege to meet so many people on this unique journey of making art inspired by our natural world."


Helen Kennedy

"I had come to the course with little seabird knowledge but great enthusiasm to learn. Both the tutors and my fellow course members were generous, not only with their extensive knowledge but also with lifts to the various locations we were to draw in. Equipment was freely shared. Never having used binoculars or scopes whilst drawing before this was particularly useful. I was able to draw on the wealth of experience around me. It was interesting to see the different approaches and working methods: what to take on long days field sketching; and how to work comfortably and efficiently in a range of weather conditions. The evening meal at the end of the day was a good time to share experiences, highs and lows. Seeing other people's work was a joy.

When I began the week I knew I wanted to understand more about seabirds. I hadn't anticipated how entranced I would be. The grace of the kittiwakes at Dunbar harbour, the charm of the guillemots and razorbills at St Abb's Head, the challenge of the gulls on Fidra. I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity to draw gannets on Bass Rock - the most visceral, astounding and beautiful place.

I have never looked so intently or for so long at birds before. It was at times difficult and demanding. The tutors were always there with energy and enthusiasm and not a little kindness and patience. I could not have asked to share the experience with a more lovely group of people. I benefited greatly from their support and expertise.

Coming away I felt a bit dazed. The week had been very intense. Looking through the work I produced I have a great sense of being at the beginning, so much to explore and learn. It is an uplifting thought."


Lorna Hamilton

"John Busby in Drawing Birds said ‘To copy from nature without resolving our own thoughts is a barren process’. I copied from nature for many years and when I applied for the John Busby Bursary, I had stopped painting altogether and had pretty much given up on my art. I knew the barrenness John had spoken off and it was not a nice place to be. I was desperately looking for an answer because nature and art were something I had once loved.

I came to the course expectant to receive the answer I needed and I was not disappointed. I was greeted with a warm, friendly atmosphere and a group of tutors and students willing to share, encourage and inspire. I couldn’t help but be affected by the infectious enthusiasm and passion for wildlife and painting outdoors. This sparked in me a new desire to draw and paint nature, not solely focusing on a finished painting but learning to enjoy and embrace the process of seeing, understanding and mark making. I feel I have still much to learn but the course has helped me see that this process is full of rich experiences with much value and rewards.

The process of learning to see was a revelation to me. Although I’ve painted for over twenty years, being in the field presented me with challenges and difficulties that working from photographs in a comfortable studio did not.

The amazing thing about this course was that I started having totally lost my way in my art but left with enthusiasm, motivation, excitement, a longing to learn more and a burning desire to work in the open air. It has given me direction and purpose and for that I am so grateful. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the wonderful legacy of John Busby!"


Liz Myhill

"The biggest challenge during the week would be attempting to capture the essence of a moving, living creature in an interesting way and to understand its form and anatomy. And that is not to mention being overwhelmed by some of the surroundings we were working in and the challenges they presented - such as a very windy, gannet-infested Bass Rock where one of my drawings blew into the colony and, although thankfully retrieved, came back full of peck holes!

The week definitely was not without its struggles as I grappled with trying to balance good draughtsmanship and accuracy of form with interesting mark-making and the sheer feeling of being overwhelmed by wanting to try so much in such a short time. It felt really important to try and take some time just to appreciate and absorb the feeling of place.

Each day brought fresh new discoveries and ideas. The tutors wide range of approaches led to a fantastic balance in the feedback and different chats we had, each coming from a slightly different angle. They were all so generous, knowledgable and full of enthusiasm. The various drawing exercises we undertook really resonated and pushed me to try new ways of working. By the end of the week I think everyone felt they had achieved some kind of breakthrough, I certainly had several moments of sudden clarity about my practice.

The week itself was amazing - stunning locations, great company, new challenges, but what I like best is the fact it doesn't stop at the end of the week. There are new things I have learnt, things I want to try and a whole new group of like-minded people who I'm sure I'll be in touch with for many years to come."

Find out more and apply for the John Busby Seabird Drawing Course Bursary

Image credit

Kittie Jones SWLA Gannet colony, Bass Rock