Art stretching across landscapes
Award-winning Lincolnshire born artist Heather Burton paints landscapes inspired by the local countryside. For many years her art career developed alongside her journalism but is now overtaking it. Interview by Tim Saunders.
Much of Heather’s paintings are created with a palette knife in acrylics and they are influenced by the Lincolnshire landscape rather than being a direct representation of a particular area.
“I am particularly fascinated by the big skies in the county and I love that contrast between a stormy sky and bright sunlight hitting the fields,” says Heather, who was born at home, just off Skellingthorpe Road in Lincoln, in 1959. A couple of years later the family moved into a bungalow in Astwick Road where Heather grew up with her brother, Jonathan, attending Skellingthorpe Road Infants and Junior schools, long since demolished.
“I consider Lincolnshire to be the place where my whole art journey started and where I am still drawn back to for inspiration.”
In 2015 Heather won the Friends of Ferens first prize at the Ferens Art Gallery Open Exhibition, which proved to be a turning point. “It made me feel that I could do this professionally.” She is now represented by two Lincoln galleries, and adds: “I have also exhibited in a mixed exhibition at the Ropewalk in Barton-upon-Humber.”
Her mother, Joyce Turner, went to Grimsby Art College and although she never pursued an art career, Heather was hugely inspired by her. “From an early age she taught me the basic principles of perspective and figurative drawing.”
Her father is also an artist. “Dad, who retired from the Lincolnshire Police, has painted some lovely watercolours. Both my parents have encouraged me to follow things I’m passionate about.”
Heather took A-level art at South Park High School on Cross O’ Cliff Hill. She says: “After that I continued to paint and draw for pleasure but I did not want to go to university.”
Instead she secured a role as a junior reporter at the Lincolnshire Echo, where she stayed for seven years.
“From the age of 13 I had a burning desire to become a journalist,” says Heather, who went on to become news editor on the Lincoln Chronicle weekly newspaper. “It was a wonderful grounding for a career, which has spanned 45 years.”
When she started at the Echo, Heather left home at 19 and “moved into a flat in the city centre, near the railway station, with a school friend and later into another flat at the top of Spring Hill, where I would be woken up by the cathedral bells very early in the morning.” She bought her first house in Dixon Street but later moved north, becoming women’s editor on the Hull Daily Mail. Marriage and a family followed.
Lincoln and Lincolnshire, however, remain so close to her heart that she still visits every other week. “I will often see something that inspires a painting further down the line. I never miss a chance to come back to Lincoln, where my father still lives. As soon as I see the cathedral, I feel as though I am coming home and I love wandering round the streets, shops and galleries at the top of the hill. I also love the Wolds, particularly the market town of Caistor, where my grandparents lived and both my parents grew up.
“My grandfather, Herbert Dixon, used to own a shop at the bottom of Plough Hill in Caistor. Last year I was lucky enough to have a solo exhibition at the Caistor Arts and Heritage Centre and it was wonderful to see an old photo of my grandfather standing outside his shop, which used to be just across the road from the centre. I still have relatives in Caistor and Horncastle, and school friends who live in Lincoln.”
Being an artist for Heather is not just about creating and selling her own work. “I also enjoy giving others the courage to start painting and to find that they really enjoy it. Introducing them to something that can be life-changing is very rewarding.”
For many years Heather worked from home as a freelance journalist, which she explains “was helpful when bringing up my two girls”. When they left home eight years ago, it left Heather with time on her hands, so she took art back up as a hobby.
“I try to paint every day if I can, even if it is only for half an hour, and it just keeps me in that zone. I think it is very easy to stop painting and lose confidence with it. You lose the momentum, so I try to keep that discipline going. I paint at any time of the day. I stand at the easel and work on large canvases much of the time, so there is quite a physical aspect to it. I’m almost doing a pilates exercise while painting! Lots of stretching, moving about.
“If there is music there will be a bit of dancing at the same time. Being in the zone is very good for your mindset, to become totally absorbed in something. The point where it takes over and you lose track of time is quite a special place to be.”
For Heather, painting is a compulsion and she is constantly developing new work. “I am constantly looking for things to stretch me, which is why I do a lot of figurative work.”
She has fond memories of her Lincolnshire childhood. “We would often go to Skegness where, in later years, my grandparents owned and ran the Quorn Hotel on the seafront. We also spent many a weekend at Cadwell Park, where I inherited my dad’s love of motorcycling. I don’t ride but my husband Dave is a very keen biker and I travel pillion, getting inspiration for my paintings. We have been all over Europe.”
Heather is preparing for exhibitions in Hornsea, Pocklington and Scotland later this year and is also Artist in Residence at Boston Spa Art Festival in October.
Follow Heather on Twitter @hdixon9