Cotswold artist Anita Saunders gets back to nature
- Credit: Archant
Despite the obvious challenges it presents, artist Anita Saunders found lockdown brought her closer to the Cotswold wildlife she loves so dearly
Artist Anita Saunders is describing to me where she lives, over our Zoom chat.
“If you look at the map,” she says, drawing fluidly in the air, “there’s a finger of Wiltshire with Gloucestershire all around it... well, we’re at the top of that finger.”
It’s a great description of where she and husband Adrian are based, and describes the location near the Cotswold Water Park more succinctly than the usual ‘we’re x miles from’ descriptions. It’s also a great example of a visual mind at play.
We’re chatting some time after the first Covid-19 lockdown, but before the second, and she’s just finished an actual, real-life, in-the-flesh exhibition at the Dove Gallery in Winchcombe.
“It was really good,” she smiles. “To be honest, being the first show in the year – as everything else had been cancelled due to Covid – it was really nice just to get out there. It was so good to have a reaction from people. In Winchcombe, I think they’re really lucky as it’s such a lovely community, and the local people have got used to the fact that there are different people popping up all the time in their gallery.”
As a relatively small community, Winchcombe certainly does punch above its weight when it comes to creativity. Its vibrancy and generosity of spirit is famous, and it welcomes artists and craftspeople as readily to its bosom as it does ramblers to its annual walking festival.
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Anita, with generosity of spirit to equal that of Winchcombe, is keen to break down the mystique behind the techniques that she and other artists use to create their work, and there’s an area on her website that explains in layman’s terms what she does.
“I’m passionate about traditional print-making techniques,” she says, “and, unless you’re a printmaker, you don’t necessarily understand what goes into the making of a piece. There might be 17 different individual screens that go into making an image, so it’s so lovely to give people that insight as I think it gives great meaning to the piece if you understand how it was created. I just love to share with people, so that when they look at it, they get more out of it. It’s not destroying the mystique; it’s allowing them to appreciate it even more.”
Anita works in an astonishing array of mediums, including screen printing, lino printing and drypoint, but she says she doesn’t “overthink” what technique or medium she’s going to use; it’s more a case of how she feels on a particular day.
“I’m constantly drawing,” she continues, “and I think that underpins everything I do.”
The coronavirus has certainly brought with it many challenges, but it’s also allowed many to rethink how they live their lives – to re-evaluate priorities, and reset.
“During the first lockdown,” she says, “when everything was so quiet, so silent, I was sitting in the back garden watching the blue tits nesting in two different boxes, and they were so busy. There was one in particular I’d watch who, in the evening, would go to the sweet peas, just 10 yards away from the nest box, find some grubs or aphids and take them back to the box. Then his journeys began to get shorter, and he’d make them more often, and it felt like he was filling up the youngsters so that they’d settle down and go to bed. I was sitting right next to the sweet peas, sketching,” she adds, thoughtfully, “and he didn’t mind me at all.”
That drawing was turned into a screen print, called ‘Hello Sweetpea’, as Anita said she knew she wanted it to be really colourful, while also capturing that lockdown feeling.
“Lockdown really is a double-edged sword,” she continues. “The abundance of nature; the amount of deer walking around just five minutes from where we live, and the inspiration I got from all of the creatures that suddenly seemed to mass together – I do consider ourselves very lucky... But the flip side is that everything I had planned this year and that I had in my diary – in fact, the most opportunities I had to exhibit and get in front of people since doing this full-time – have all been wiped out. So, in terms of income, it’s been very challenging.”
As with many other creatives, and those running their own small businesses, it’s been a case of reassessing her digital presence. “It is hard to keep going,” she says, “and if things don’t change, it’s making me rethink how I’m going to work in the future.”
Fortunately, Anita has an Etsy shop (etsy.com/uk/shop/AnitaSaundersArtist) in which to promote and sell her work, as well as her official website, and is part of the ‘Just a Card’ initiative, encouraging people to support artists, even if you can only afford to buy a greetings card. She also has representation from the Artysan Gallery in Stow-on-the-Wold (artysancotswolds.co.uk), Art Gallery South West (artgallerysw.co.uk), and has been picked up by the Emerging Artist Platform (emergingartistplatform.com), so, thankfully, it’s fairly easy to seek out her work online.
The whole business of marketing strategies and online promotion, though, hasn’t necessarily come easy to her as, first and foremost, she’s a country girl and artist at heart.
As a child, she spent a great deal of time out in the countryside with her elder brother (also Adrian, but known as ‘Ade’), helping tend her grandfather’s sheep on the land around Eastington, near Northleach, which helped nurture her love of nature.
“I think we were a little bit feral,” she laughs. “We used to make a big bottle of weak lemon squash, say ‘Bye, Mum’ and we’d be gone in the fields until it was time to go home for tea.
“I do have a real passion for sheep,” she continues. “I can’t pass a field of them without talking to them, so it was lovely to be able to spend all that time out in all winds and weathers, looking after them. Lambing time, of course, was my favourite, as we’d have all these little ones wanting a little extra TLC, putting them in tea chests and feeding them. Things like that, when you’re a child and quite impressionable, have a huge impact on you.”
When I speak to Anita, she’s working hard on pulling together her forthcoming exhibition for the new-look gallery space at the Corinium Museum in Cirencester.
“I’ll be showing a lot of my paintings in the exhibition,” she explains, “and there will be some larger stained-glass pieces, plus lampshades and cushions made from my own fabric, wallpaper, and other crafted items. Right across the board, really!” she laughs.
The exhibition will be continuing right through Christmas and into February next year. The festive season in the household is generally a raucous affair, and Anita’s hoping that – pandemic-allowing – this year will be similar.
“My daughter and her husband should be joining us, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to have the family madness that we normally do… plenty to eat and drink, and lots of games. My daughter and her dad are so competitive!” she laughs.
It’s clear that being a full-time artist is the life Anita was always destined for and, although she realises that 2021 may come with further restrictions, she’s hoping that there will be plenty of opportunities for artists and craftspeople to exhibit.
“I had a corporate career for 27 years,” she continues, “but the joy and pleasure of being able to get up and go to your place of work and do what you love is something I don’t think I will ever get tired of. Every day is a joy, and I am blessed.”
Anita Saunders’ exhibition, Back to Nature, is at the Corinium Museum, Park Street, Cirencester, GL7 2BX, from December 4 until February, 2021.
Enjoy a private view of Anita’s exhibition from the comfort of your home here, or do get along in person if you’re able, and have a chat with the artist herself – she’d love that.