A world seen through watercolour

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
August 2017

Inspiration is all around for artist Sandra Peck, but nothing gets her imagination fired up like the beautiful gardens and properties where she is privileged to be artist in residence.
Sandra, of Spalding, has been teaching painting for more than twenty-five years, initially running classes in studios and village halls before switching to inspirational venues including Stamford’s Burghley House and Barnsdale Gardens, located just over the county border in Rutland. She has also run sessions especially for the Royal Horticultural Society.

Specialising in watercolour, she has developed her own wet-into-wet technique and holds painting days, demonstrating and talking people of all abilities through the process of creating a piece of work.

“Most people will remember Geoff Hamilton’s Gardener’s World programmes for the BBC, I had watched them and was delighted to find that all of the gardens he had created at Barnsdale were not only still in existence, but had matured, and were now even more beautiful,” explains Sandra, who particularly enjoys painting flowers.

“There are thirty-eight individual gardens; everywhere you look there is another gorgeous little scene, perfect for painting. It seemed like the ideal venue, as we would have fresh flowers, beautiful garden settings and refreshments all on site.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Geoff, but the gardens are now owned by his son Nick, who welcomed me to teach there around fifteen years ago.

“Burghley House is another inspirational venue, there are lots of beautiful subjects there; the house itself is lovely and there are so many different aspects of it to choose from; old stone arches, doorways and windows are always a joy to paint in watercolour and there are so many grand and lovely interiors.

“It has been delightful to spend time there and have access to some of the areas that visitors wouldn’t normally be able to see, such as behind closed doors, cellars and the spectacular view from the rooftop.”

Sandra has always been interested in art and painting, but worked as a legal PA rather than pursuing it as a career initially. She only picked up her paintbrushes again after becoming a mother, when she thought it would be lovely to capture the likenesses of her daughters.

“I just thought it would be lovely if I could create paintings of them, so I really started out trying to do that as a hobby, just in drawings and pastels as they were easily available,” she recalls.

“Then I decided to take some classes. I suppose I could have gone anywhere or chosen the wrong class, but fortunately I went to John Gray at Riverbank Studios, in Spalding.

“His classes are informal, each person takes along what they want to have a go at and he gives them advice; he started me out in all mediums. I was lucky as he is a really talented artist.

“I was really enthusiastic. I wasn’t just painting a little bit in class, I was doing lots at home too as that’s the only way you learn and improve. It was just the start I needed and gave me a bit of confidence. I soon got into watercolour and then I found I quite enjoyed painting flowers.”

Sandra was given a further boost when John suggested she have some of her pieces framed and put on a show at the gallery. Shortly afterwards she was asked to give some demonstrations at the studios as there wasn’t anyone else specialising in flowers using the same techniques, and from there she was invited to teach at other venues around the area.

“Watercolour has a special appeal for me,” says Sandra. “When you paint with other mediums the paint or pastel stays exactly where you put it on the paper, but the thing that I really love about watercolour is the way that it moves on wet paper and how the pigments run into each other and make new colours and marks.

“I still find this fascinating and try to make the most of these properties. Some of my work may appear to be more detailed, but when you look closely, there are lots of wet-into-wet runs and drips of colour.

“I try to inject a little excitement into each part of the painting; I never just flat wash anything. A rose petal won’t just be painted in one colour; there will be lots of different colours allowed to merge in curved brushstrokes to shape and leave light on each petal.

“A stamen won’t just be a brown blob; it will be a miniature wet-into-wet painting. When painting buildings I don’t normally use pigments such as Payne’s Great, Burnt or Raw Umber, I think that more interesting stone hues can be achieved by running colours together and adding a few surprises.”

Sandra has twelve painting days planned at Barnsdale next year alongside more at Burghley House. Her daughter Lucy Ellis also teaches at both venues and between them they offer a range of different media and subjects.

Sandra’s 2017 programme includes classes focussing on oriental poppies, sunflowers, gladioli, parrot tulips and also lilac, wisteria and cherry blossom.

“There are many beautiful flowers that I love to paint, but probably my absolute favourites are old-fashioned roses,” she says.

“We have some growing in our garden and my perfect day would probably be sitting outside painting these. Again I have been really fortunate, as this year I was able to have classes at both Barnsdale and Burghley, painting heavily scented David Austin roses freshly picked from the garden.

“Each year I try to make the programme different, but do repeat some of the special favourites.

“As an artist I’m sure that I’m not alone in viewing everything that I see as a possible painting,” she smiles. “It doesn’t matter where I am, whatever I am looking at is immediately transformed into watercolour, it’s just the way I see everything.

“I have been teaching for more than twenty-five years now but I still really enjoy it and have met many lovely people and made many friends. Some of them still paint with me occasionally after all this time and a number have gone on to teach and to become members of prestigious societies and to earn recognition for their own paintings.

“I feel very lucky to be painting at two of the loveliest places.”

To find out more about Sandra, her work and the classes she offers visit www.sandrapeckwatercolours.co.uk

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