Artists at Dorset Art Weeks on opening their studios to the public

One of Imogan Bittner's colourful stitched textile pieces

One of Imogan Bittner's colourful stitched textile pieces - Credit: Archant

Rosie Staal meets some of the artists opening their studios for Dorset Art Weeks

Imogen Bittner in her studio at Sturminster Newton

Imogen Bittner in her studio at Sturminster Newton - Credit: Archant

What is Dorset Art Weeks

Dorset Art Weeks (DAW) is a 16-day open studios event organised by Dorset Visual Arts (DVA)involving 1,000 artists at more than 300 venues across the entire county. It started in 1992 and is held every other year, attracting 25,000 visitors, boosting the county’s economy by £2.2m. It runs from 24 May – 8 June 2014.

For more details visit here to find out why Dorset Art Weeks is so successful.


Imogen Bittner - the newcomer

This will be Imogen’s first experience as an exhibitor at Dorset Art Weeks (DAW), even though she has been an artist since graduating from West Surrey College of Art and Design in 1979.

Imogen will be showing her collages in mixed media, using stitched textiles, painted canvas and natural fibres, and soft sculptures made from fabric and paper. The colourful collages vibrantly depict landscapes close to her heart, such as favourite dog-walks near her home in Sturminster Newton, or the Jurassic Coast where she interprets, in textural form, the contrasts of sea, sky and rocks.

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“I’m really looking forward to being part of such a significant event in the county,” says Imogen, who joined Dorset Visual Arts after going to the 2013 Dorset Art Fair– an event that runs in the fallow year between the bi-annual Dorset Art Weeks.

At the time, Imogen was in the process of completing her MA in Fine Art at Arts University Bournemouth. Soon after being awarded her degree, she was made redundant from her job as an art teacher at Guy’s Marsh prison, near Shaftesbury. With her studies and her paid employment behind her, Imogen began to see the light, literally, as colour flowed into her world after the darkly monochrome years of prisoners’ art. The thought that she could now make art her life, rather than fit it in around the day job, encouraged her to apply for inclusion in DAW 2014.

With renewed motivation, she has been filling her studio with brilliant colours and ravishing textiles as piece after piece has taken shape, stitched into place with a 1920s Singer sewing machine salvaged from the household recycling tip at Blandford.

Venue 202: The Old Forge, The Bridge, Sturminster Newton DT10 2BS

Directions: Venue is between Broad Oak (Bull Inn) and Sturminster Bridge. Parking at Sturminster Mill or the small public car park opposite The Bull.

More details: 01258 472194;***

Felice Hodges – hoping to repeat the success of 2012

One of the first things that artist and sculptor Felice Hodges did when she moved from London to Witchampton just over three years ago was to join Dorset Visual Arts, which organises Dorset Art Weeks. When May 2012 came around, despite being immersed in renovating her house, she opened her studio for DAW.

“I was amazed by the numbers of visitors who found their way here,” she says. “Mine was the only open studio in the village, yet people still poured in day after day.” By the end of the event nearly 300 visitors had seen her work and Felice sold 15 of her abstract landscape paintings. “I was surprised by the deep, knowledgeable interest many of the visitors showed. I’d say that half the people who came were either artists or studying art. It was lovely.”

Felice was also struck by the long journeys some had made. “They had come huge distances, hundreds of miles in some cases, and were staying for a week or more, planning to visit artists in their studios all over Dorset.”

Now, she’s looking forward to opening her studio again for DAW 2014. “It’s an isolating experience, being an artist, so having my studio open changes all that in the best way.” And as for selling her work, she says the greatest delight is certainly not the money. “It’s the fact that someone wants to live with one of my pieces and they know they’ll be comfortable with it in their home.”

She understands this because she is an avid collector herself. A New Year visit to one of her favourite places, Kelly Ross’s Stable Gallery at Child Okeford, for example, resulted in her adding three beautiful new prints to the walls of her home. “Like most people, I suppose, I buy pieces by artists I admire and if the piece is meaningful. And if I can afford it!”

Venue 269: Abbey House, Witchampton BH21 5AG

Directions: Ring bell at side of black entrance gates; wait a few moments for gates to open.

More details: 01258 841418 / 07768 137235***

Peter Thomas – in it from the start

Nothing would make Peter Thomas miss the opportunity to put his distinctive wooden bowls and walking sticks on show to the public during Dorset Art Weeks. “It’s the best shop window you could have and I thoroughly enjoy it,” he says.

Peter, who is 75, was still farming 900 acres of dairy, sheep and arable on the Rampisham Manor Estate the first time he exhibited during the inaugural DAW in 1992. He worked with pieces of wood that came his way on the farm, mainly making small items of furniture, but once he got hold of a lathe, there was no stopping him.

Since he retired, because “the fun had gone out of farming”, he has been in his workshop at his 15th century thatched cottage seven days a week creating beautiful objects and fulfilling orders from clients all over the world. Many have encountered him at DAW, others at events such as the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival and craft exhibitions at National Trust venues.

“I only ever use wood from trees within a mile of my home,” he says. “It matters a lot to me, that whole organic process of something that grew out of the ground then being given the chance to grow again into something else through your hands.”

During DAW Peter is looking forward to sharing his workshop and gallery space (under the name Living Wood) with his friend Trevor Ball, woodsman and gamekeeper on the Rampisham Estate. He has spent many hours watching Peter at work and is now an artist in wood in his own right. “He’s my successor,” says Peter with a smile. “He’s going to carry my message on for me.”

Venue 57: Old Rectory Cottage, Rampisham, Nr Dorchester, DT2 0PT

Directions: Signed off A37 to Rampisham. Off A356 to Rampisham

More details: 01935 83247

A contrast in age and styles

June Lisle

Sherborne artist June Lisle is 87 this year, making her one of the oldest exhibitors, but she is still keen to be a part of Dorset Art Weeks. “I’ve been taking part in DAW almost since the start. The last few times, as I’ve got older and had less stamina, I’ve thought ‘Maybe not this year’. Then I remember how I take pleasure in meeting interested visitors who want to hear about my creative process and who want to spend time looking at the paintings.”

It’s also an opportunity, she says, to catch up with friends old and new, including past students. “Yes it’s expensive and time-consuming and exhausting – but it’s also very worthwhile.”

Venue 196 (with jeweller Serena Barnes): 30 Kings Road, Sherborne, DT9 4HU.

More details: 01935 389787, email or visit***

Sam Thomas

At the opposite end of the age scale is Sam Thomas, of Pimperne, probably the youngest DAW exhibitor at just 24. Sam is a digital illustrator who works for national magazines, but his day job is as a primary school teacher at Sixpenny Handley where he inspires pupils with his love of illustration and his skills in digital manipulation.

“I use my art work as much as I can in the classroom,” he says. “I try to make it relevant so that I can use it as a starting point for some of our lessons: drawing medieval warriors, spartans, robots, dinosaurs . . . just about anything to get them engaged with the subject.”

He says his gaming background from university – he studied Digital Art and Technology – also enables him to create and make games as teaching aids.

Sam, whose mother is the landscape painter Claire Thomas, admits his inspiration has always come from animatation. “My favourite has to be The Simpsons,” he says. “When I was seven or eight I would sit for hours drawing Homer and Bart over and over again. I was always doodling in class, too.”

Venue 248 (with landscape painter Claire Thomas): 2 Berkeley Cottages, Church Road, Pimperne, Blandford Forum, DT11 8UA

Directions: A354 Blandford to Salisbury, 1st turning left after Farqhuarson, left again. From Salisbury, 2nd turning right, then left.

More details: 01258 456474;