Toni Northcott: Some notes on my work and what inspires me to make art…

I originally trained to teach Physical Education at Secondary level with a Dance specialism, and studied Art as my second subject. I spent 38 rewarding years teaching mainly Dance plus a little Key Stage 3 Art, but rarely had the time to develop my own art skills. My retirement in 2010 gave me the opportunity to focus on this and I joined an Adult Education Art class in 2012.

Inspiration for my work comes from many sources but I am particularly inspired by the rural environment, notably the coast, especially the actual meeting of sea and land, the movement of water, and how light changes its colour. Other major inspiration comes from the landscapes of my childhood in rural Gloucestershire, especially the dappled light and changing colours of the beech woods, the hills and valley streams. I love plants, and my garden is a constant source of inspiration, especially in the textures and colours of the leaves and seedheads. I also feel that, having spent over 40 years teaching, performing and choreographing dance, movement plays an important part in my interpretation of my subject matter, and often there is a feeling of movement going through my work. It’s mostly not intentional but I’m always very pleased and intrigued if and when I detect it in the finished piece.

I like to experiment with texture and for this reason I am drawn to objects, mostly natural forms, which have this quality, especially where they have been altered or changed by time, such as wood, rock, pebbles and shells, seedheads and moss. I often work in mixed media and like to use found objects such as wooden coffee stirrers, plastic tubing, sticks and twigs, credit cards and bits of sponge as well as brushes to apply paint. An example of this is White Nigella and Allium Seedheads.

Toni Northcott - White Nigella and Allium Seedheads.JPG
White Nigella and Allium Seedheads

I’ve done a number of studies of these plants in my garden. They grow in a jumble in the gravel, along with various types of Heuchera, and the combination provides endless interest. On this occasion the wind and rain had beaten them down and I took lots of photos from above. The colours and textures were beautiful. This was my first serious attempt using acrylics.

Another example of mixed media work is High Tide, Petit Bot, Guernsey.

Toni Northcott - High Tide, Petit Bot, Guernsey.JPG
High Tide, Petit Bot, Guernsey

Having family in Guernsey I am lucky enough to visit quite regularly. I love the light on the sea, the blue and rose granite, and the clarity of the water which reveals a huge variety of sea creatures and many coloured vraics. On this occasion I visited Petit Bot Bay for the first time and was struck by the wonderful colours around the rocks in the water. I stood on the rocks for a long time studying the movement of the waves and took lots of photos, then completed this study on my return home. I’ve used wax resist to convey the light and foam on the water, as well as watercolour and charcoal pencil. Watercolour is excellent for conveying the depth of colour and translucence of the water, achieved by glazing one colour over another.

Another place I find inspiring is the South Pembrokeshire coast. I often visit Manorbier because it is such a lovely cove with an ever changing beach and great rock formations. The layers of rock are pink and blue and ancient geological upheavals have caused them to become vertical instead of horizontal. The different types of rock have worn differently with the action of the sea, leaving rows of rock with sand and pools in between.

Toni Northcott - Fruits de Mer
Fruits de Mer

On this occasion I was interested in the shapes made by the seaweed which had been strewn about by the tide and the lovely colours against the rock. These, along with the limpets and barnacles stuck to the rock gave me the title of Fruits de Mer. I made some sketches and took lots of photos for further information, and worked from all of these sources on my return home, using acrylic paint.

Memory often plays a significant role in my work. I can now rarely return to places which I loved when growing up but I am lucky enough to have members of my family who are excellent photographers and I often find that one of their photos strikes a chord and I can use it as a source for a painting. I don’t copy the photograph, I use it as an aide memoire and as I only use photos of places that I know well, the rest is down to memory and feeling. Hidden Dell is one such painting. I used to play in beech woods as a child and have always loved them.

Hidden Dell

I normally make my art in the weekly class and in another small group that a few of us set up to meet and work on our art together. I find that working with others is great for sharing ideas, encouragement and friendly criticism, and having some set hours means that I will always do a certain amount of art per week, whereas at home there are always other things calling for attention. I do have an allotted space at home to work in, which is still in the process of being set up properly. I am gradually getting there! I need to draw more, so the aim is to put time in on the majority of days in the week rather than just a few.

There are lots of areas that I would like to explore in art in the future. I have done some collage work but would like to develop my work more, perhaps to include more textile techniques, such as free stitching, felting and weaving in the future. I am also very interested in, but don’t know much about, printing techniques that would vary the textural qualities I like to include in my work. I would also like to do more figurative work and some portraiture.

I would say to anyone just starting out and/or wanting to make progress with their art work, join a group, get some tuition whether regular or fixed period courses, and try to make or share your art with others who can give feedback and support. Joining groups tends to open up further opportunities, and seeing how other people work and receiving feedback on your own work is a great source of inspiration.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of The Eye Exhibition Project and have found it to be a whole new learning experience. I have met some wonderful new friends, seen their totally inspirational work, and received a huge amount of support and I hope that we will be able to continue meeting up and sharing our art work and experience in the future. Particular thanks go to Jane Sunbeam and Moira Robinson for their amazing hard work and drive to make this project happen!

Toni Northcott


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