Spotlight on Sandwich artist Cheryl Culver

Cheryl Culver talks of her love of pastels, the joys of solitude, landscapes and literature

Literary landscapes

Sandwich artist Cheryl Culver talks of her love of pastels, the joys of solitude, landscapes and literature

I have to admit that artists’ working conditions continually surprise me. Here is Cheryl Culver’s studio, basically a very neat (custom-built) shed in the garden with easel, a mass of pastels and a fine printer, so that she can make her own cards and calendars to professional quality.

Yet she is hampered by great variations in temperature as to how she can light the space; with the windows open to nature, it would be too hot, or too cold. However, the work suffers not at all from this lack of natural working light and

Cheryl creates beautiful and contemplative landscapes. A highly solitary person, she takes her sketchbooks and goes out walking alone in the countryside, her English setter by her side.

There is a precision to her sketches, most often in pen and ink. However, what usually guides her finished works is a predominating colour that she discovers in a scene which satisfies her. Often the “trekking around” as she calls it, may take quite a while.

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Cheryl works almost exclusively in pastel now. “I used to paint in watercolour for many years, but I wanted something with a bit more power,” she says.

“As I worked I needed to use something that was faster. There is a massive challenge but good results with pastel - I think it is the most exciting medium.“ The Pastel Society, of which Cheryl is the Honorary Secretary, includes pencil, Cont� (like a hard drawing pastel), pastel and charcoal. Because of all these mediums which come under the heading of a dry medium, the exhibitions of the Society are incredibly varied.

Cheryl’s work, however, pursues a theme: the landscape. Although she won’t be drawn as to who her artistic heroes are, saying that she prefers to follow her own path, there is a hint of the Douanier Rousseau in some of the landscapes, in the highly shaped and rather stylised trees.

Here, however, we have no animals peering through foliage, nor are there figures. “I find a tranquil space, I walk, I look for patterns in the landscape. There might be a tree which blows one way; it has its own logic,” she explains.

“Looking for landscape to paint is not easy, sometimes you walk and walk. Essentially, it’s tranquillity, quiet and lonely for people. The first drawings are the most precious because they are the first instantaneous response.”

I’m absorbing landscape, sky and light changes, but I pick one colour from my mind and put it into the picture

Cheryl works on one piece at a time. “There is a reason. Partly pastel has to be stored, so it’s good to finish it and put it under glass. Also I tend to streamline my pastels down to a group specific to that painting. If you take the paper off the pastel it’s difficult to see the colour.

“If you keep the pastels together, I have a unity of colour. I may have 15 pastels and then there is a multitude of colours as they are overlaid. When I’m painting from a drawing there may be one predominant colour.

“At the moment I have a thing about solitary leaves on the tree which seem to shine like jewels. I’m absorbing landscape, sky and light changes, but I pick one colour from my mind and put it into the picture. Some people have said that my pictures have a nostalgia or a sadness about them, but for me it’s tranquillity”

Cheryl’s works come in a variety of sizes. “The smallest I’m comfortable with is 16 inch square, the biggest is about 34-36 inch square. I say square: it’s a peaceful shape. I’ve tried moving into other shapes but they don’t feel right at the moment. That might change.”

The pastels are executed on MDF, which is like a fine chipboard, and Cheryl uses a pastel primer, Golden acrylic pastel, that she sources from America.

Cheryl tells me that the titles she gives her works are all quite literary and may be quite long. “I have a love of words. I read a lot and nearly gave up art for literature. I’ve written quite a few articles for the Artist magazine.”

Not surprising then that the question about heroes turned up Sebastian Barry and Niall Williams, rather than Constable and Palmer!

Cheryl’s future plans? “Paint lots and lots. I just want to get better, keep working and improving.”


Cheryl Culver, 9 Stone Cross Lees, Sandwich CT13 0BZ

01304 619921 or 07738 661584 or

Cheryl’s work can be seen at the Val Gould Gallery, 35 Harnet Street, Sandwich, CT13 9ES, 01304 611104

The exhibition at the Pastel Society, Mall Galleries, behind the Pastel Society headquarters at 17 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5BD, is from 12 February. For more details, ring 0207 930 6844. Cheryl’s work is included here.