Capturing the Cotswolds in her art

PUBLISHED: 18:25 20 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:02 20 February 2013

Shelly Perkins.

Shelly Perkins.

Just how do you capture the personality of the Cotswolds in two dimensions? Candia McKormack meets a young artist whose very distinctive style has an uncanny way of achieving just that

Capturing the Cotswolds

The Cotswold landscape means so many different things to so many different people.

Some view it as uncomplicatedly beautiful rolling hills nestling golden-stoned buildings and golden-fleeced sheep in its protective vales, while others see a living landscape with a vital, beating heart borne of industry and determined personalities. The essence of what makes the Cotswolds the place she is her subtle nuances and brash strength of character is a hard creature to capture. Many artists and photographers have shown great understanding of her different facets all equally valid and have shown just what a complicated and multi-layered beauty she really is.

Its perhaps surprising then to find an artist of such a young age who seems to understand her so well on so many different levels.

Shelly Perkins is a 25-year-old artist living in Malvern whose distinctly unique way of looking at our beloved countryside is soon to be seen in an exhibition of her Cotswold Collection. Working in different media both traditional and electronic her work is an affectionate representation of the scenery we know and love.

How I work is that I visit the place, take hundreds of photographs visiting all the little side streets and alleyways, taking pictures from many different angles and then make pencil sketches. The final drawing usually takes me a couple of days, she continues. I then scan this into the computer at A3 size.

Shellys pictures are a rich blend of different textures intricately layered. So, how does she achieve this I ask?

I make textures by scanning in pieces of fabric, creating watercolour washes and scanning these in Then, using my original pencil drawing as a base, I draw around each little area and drop in the required colour and texture, to create the effect of moss, shadows; that kind of thing. This is incredibly time-consuming, as Im constantly referencing back to the photographs Ive taken.

As she describes how she creates each picture, I am struck by just how incredibly labour-intensive this process really is. Using Photoshop, Shelly builds up scores sometimes hundreds of layers, patiently constructing the image, while sifting through the piles of reference photographs. It must take an incredible amount of time, I suggest.

Yes, it does, which is why its very frustrating when people think that print isnt as worthy as original paintings, saying its not hand-crafted. I can do original work, but to create these kinds of colours and effects its more informative, I believe, then if I were to create a watercolour wash.

I do agree that it makes perfect sense to use all the resources that are available to the modern artist. Shelly is using traditional media alongside modern technology to great effect

I always make sure I keep my original hand-drawn line, which is very expressive; its quite inconsistent in its weight and thickness. I think it remains my greatest strength and is what makes my work so different to other artists who are working in this way. While they may use a vector, I always keep my hand-drawn line.

Looking at Shellys other work, its clear she has an affinity with the natural world, and particularly with animals.

At the moment Im working on townscapes for this collection, but most of my other work is animal-based. I grew up in the countryside, at Neen Sollars in Shropshire, where I still have my horse I spend my time these days between my parents house and my base in Malvern. Im a bit of a nomad I suppose!

Shelly did an art foundation course in Stourbridge, then went on to do a university course in at Bristol, concentrating on illustration.

I do commercial work as well as my own pictures, but it can be very difficult getting commissioned by publishers, particularly at the moment, and so I soon realised that Id have to start selling my work as an actual artist. Now I would say that has an equal weighting with my commercial work. Selling my work as cards has helped to get my name known; although not particularly a money-making exercise, it has allowed more people to see my pictures.

And how did Shelly find her style? I wonder whether it was something she worked on methodically until she found her own distinctive look, or whether it was something she stumbled upon.

I think it was a very gradual process, because when I started my degree I was a real purist everything had to be by hand and created in a very painstakingly traditional manner. But my tutors were saying that I wasnt actually producing a finished piece of work everything looked too sketchy and the colours werent vibrant enough. I then found that by combining lots of different textures with my hand-drawn line using a computer, I could achieve a kind of flexibility I didnt have with traditional methods.

Its actually a very organic process because I can go away at any point in the production of a picture and draw extra elements to scan in and add. I dont always have a definite idea of how the picture is going to look, and Im constantly moving things around and changing the look.

And what have been some of Shellys favourite projects or pieces of work?

I think when Ive completed this collection the Cotswold Collection its going to be quite a substantial piece of work. The nice thing is that it has a lot of memories; going to visit the places, cycling down with friends and family and spending time in the towns and around the countryside. Each picture has a story. While researching Broadway I was training with my best friend for a marathon, and so we ran down from Broadway Tower through the lavender fields, past Snowshill Manor great memories. And my Moreton-in-Marsh picture features my dog; he was very poorly at the time and that was the last trip he did with us, so its a lovely reminder of him.

Each little picture has a story to tell and all hold so many memories for me.

Shellys work can be seen this month at The Winds of Change Gallery, Winchcombe, October 11-30, open Monday-Saturday, 11am-5.30pm, tel: 01242 603836,

The Christmas exhibition at Clay Barn running from November 26-29, called Richly Rural, will also be featuring Shellys work. Clay Barn, Redhill, Alcester, Warwickshire, B49 6NQ, tel: 01789 765214,

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