From art to alchemy: Saffron Walden artists open to the public

Crown on the Cradle, Mark Pender

Crown on the Cradle, Mark Pender - Credit: Archant

Franksy says: “I’ve turned”. One of the artists opening his doors for this year’s Saffron Walden Open Studios, he was better known for years as Paul Franks, a “creative” for international advertising companies.

Franksy, Open Studios

Franksy, Open Studios - Credit: Archant

Franksy says: “I’ve turned”. One of the artists opening his doors for this year’s Saffron Walden Open Studios, he was better known for years as Paul Franks, a “creative” for international advertising companies.

Once, he says he spent his time selling people things they didn’t know they wanted. Now most of his pieces are based on barcodes, an irony on consumerism he suggests.

His work painted in acrylic onto stretched canvas, includes Get the Needle, which is a barcode turntable. Another is called Nan’s Beach Hut, and there is Einstein, a picture of the maths genius in a diamond shape, all in black and white, except for his pink tongue.

Saffron Walden Open Studios is a rare chance to see artists at work, ask them about their ideas and look at more of their pieces than you see on display in a gallery.

This year, there will be 16 open studios, over two weekends, April 25 and 26 and May 2 and 3. Miranda Pender, chairman of organisers, Saffron Walden Arts Trust said: “This is a chance for the public to see the artist creating their work and a chance to talk to them about what they do and what inspires them.”

Miranda and her husband Mark will open up their own studio in Newport. His work is gothic with pictures of myths and fairy tales. Hers is in pastels, still lives of fruit called Fruit Pastels.

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Many of the artists will offer tea and cake, one of them said she usually offered wine but not many people took it up. In the case of Katie Lynn, who works in fused glass, some of her work looks good enough to eat.

She said: “I cut the glass by hand and put it on an oven tray in the kiln, when the pieces come out they look like boiled sweets.” As well as a tour round her gallery, visitors will be offered the chance to cut glass for themselves.

Ceramic sculptor Ian Vance will be working away when visitors arrive at his studio and will be happy to talk them through the processes and show pieces of work at various stages.

He said: “The ethos of the open studio is to engage with people. Usually you work alone. I have found that people are very interested, they want to know how things work and they have a great understanding of all the hidden details that go into making pottery.

“When you see the piece as it goes through the processes it doesn’t look how it is going to end up. What becomes the glaze starts off as a sludgy white powder. There is a bit of folk lore about the magic that happens in a kiln, you put in a piece of raw clay and hope that what comes out is what you intended it to be. There’s a real danger it won’t be. You are never quite sure what’s going to happen.”

Sarah Turpin is one of three painters showing at Almshouse Chapel in Abbey Lane. She illustrates children’s books with fairytale characters, witches and wizards. She said: “Books have always been my big passion. I have never packed my children’s books away, they are so beautiful.” She likes her witches to be interesting. “I draw old ladies. I like drawing old people, I like interesting faces. My illustrations range from spooky to humorous but the kids enjoy them.”

Ian and Annie Evans who met at Cambridge College of Art (now part of Anglia Ruskin University) in 1966, worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, respectively all their married lives. At one time, they both worked for The Reader’s Digest. Five years ago, they founded Rockwell Pottery. He says he makes all the “macho stuff” the River of Life sculptures, masks of Neptune and King Canute, Annie makes little birds and broaches, sometimes little mice.

Vandy Massey a watercolourist who will open her studio in Whittlesford as well as her main work has a range of small paintings called Running with Brushes which she sells raising funds for the charity Care for Casualties helping wounded military personnel and their families.

She said: “I think it’s interesting to see a painting in the context of the artist’s home. It gives you an insight when you see them in their working space. I know from going to artists’ studios myself. It’s different from when you see a picture hanging in a gallery. It gives you a chance to ask them why they painted that picture. It adds to owning a painting, you have a picture of the person who’s done it.”

Jill Leech has been opening her textiles studio since 1994. As with many, her studio is her home and she is amused that the visitors feel so comfortable there. “People bring sandwiches and sit in my garden and eat them.”

She has increased her range from wall hangings to include wearable textiles (broaches and necklaces) as well as handmade notebooks and sketchbooks.

She said: “People love to see the way you live and how you work. It can be quite sterile going into a gallery and seeing the work there. The Saffron Walden show is more like a treasure hunt. A few of them come back every year, to see what I have been up to.”

Ceramicist Sue Smith who creates figures, vases and bowls in stoneware and works from life models said she liked to experiment with glazing.

“Sometimes I use ash from the wood stove, sometimes, chalk from the drive. It’s art and alchemy,” said Sue.

INFORMATION: All the studios are free entry. A brochure listing all the artists with a map of their studios and a planned route, is available from Saffron Walden Tourist Information, Saffron Walden Library and