The Artist (December 2007, p.25) –
A Sense Of Place by Ken Gofton.
Norma Stephenson finds her subjects in the hills and moorland of the Forest of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales. Her paintings are semi-abstract, with a twist: in the wild, very loosely executed, landscapes, man’s contributions – such as farm buildings – are realistic and solidly anchored.
“I am not inspired by light and shade, but more by pattern and mood,” she says. “As inTowards Bowland Knotts I enjoy the tough, squat Yorkshire farm houses and barns, which sit so unobtrusively in the landscape.”
Stephenson works in the studio from sketches and, for the buildings or horizon outline, digital photographs. “My preferred starting point is to print a black and white image and then work on abstracting it. I look for the shapes and rhythms, and then abandon the original photographic image and work from my own interpretation.”
She uses mainly Daler Rowney pastels – silky, but hard enough to give edgy marks – plus Unison for their chunky size. Sometimes her choice of colours, as in Malham Moorland Farm, is a direct reflection of her emotional response..
Mountboard is her favoured support. Sometimes she primes this with a pumis powder and gesso mix, “but often I will throw myself into a painting without any preparation”, she says.
“I find this is almost always more likely to lead to a successful outcome than is a preconceived, measured start. Often I will cover the support with watercolour or acrylic, aggressively and randomly, to achieve a patina and cover the inhibiting white. I then slowly feel my way into the image, drawing into it with Conte and enjoying a ‘wandering line’ until it feels comfortable and balanced, with the right proportion of busy and calm areas.”
She blocks in the main shapes in pastel, but considers it important to leave some of the underpainting showing for texture and interest.
There comes an inevitable point, however, where dissatisfaction sets in. Almost always this is because the painting has become too explicit, leaving nothing to the viewer’s imagination. Radical measures are required, which can result in success or disaster.
“I will often dribble water into the pastel, causing rivulets and textured effects,” she declares. “Or I will sweep my hand across the surface to remove detail.
“In the case of Crina Bottom Farm this had the effect of defusing the distance. Then, at the last moment, I thought it lacked foreground interest, so I added just the suggestion of a group of Swaledale sheep, and felt instantly happy with the result.”
Pastel Society UK (December 2005, p.3) –
Featured Artist: Norma Stephenson
I was born in 1945 in Hawick, a small town in the Scottish Borders. In my late teens I won a bursary to Sheffield Art College to study fine art and, later, a year of graphic design. Family commitments, for many years, kept me painting for pleasure.
Scottish painters have always held a special interest for me: Joan Eardley, whose work seems contempory even today, Ann Redpath, whose birthplace was also Hawick, the Scottish Colourists and now Barbara Rae and John Brown and other contemporary painters whose work is colourful and verging on the abstract.
I make a point of visiting Edinburgh to see the RSW and Academy Shows each year which always shakes me into examining my own work. It tends to encourage my leaning to be more abstract.
I first saw John Blockley’s painting while wandering through Stow on the Wold as a young mother. I was immediately aware of a vision and interpretation of the landscape to which I could relate and have since always had great admiration for his work. Annual holidays on the west coast of Scotland, a childhood living on the edge of the Peak district and now in the hills of the Forest of Bowland and Dales of North Yorkshire were other influences. I feel I have a natural affinity with millstone grit and wild landscapes. The tough squat farms and barns and the ribbon roads over the moorland are often a feature of my work
In 2001 I submitted work to the RWS open exhibition, won the Cuthbert award and sold the paintings. Encouraged by this, in the following years, I sent work to the RI and the PS where I won The Herring award and again the Cuthbert prize. I was elected to the Pastel Society in 2004
My working approach is studio based, working from sketches and digital photography. I abstract the images to find the essence and compositional patterns. I work in pastels, acrylics or watercolour on gesso/pumice primed board and use both Unison and Daler Rowney pastels. I work over an under painting of either failed watercolour or watercolour washes, usually on large size mountboard, to then enjoy the creativity of cropping the painting and make a satisfying and pleasing image, all part of the creative process.
My studio in the summer months is a summerhouse in the garden, by the stream, and surrounded by trees. It has heat and light but by November the damp has penetrated and the heating makes little impact so I retreat to any space available in the house that can be found..
In 1988 to indulge my interest in the arts I began to hold painting workshops at my home: Jack Beck House. John Blockley, a long time friend, offered to tutor my first weekend course and due to his great popularity I was immediately swamped by applicants. This beginning has been followed by 18 years of seeking out artists, whose work I enjoy, to tutor courses. I have had the opportunity to share time and exchange ideas with many inspirational artists: John Blockley, Moira Huntly, Ken Paine, Debra Manifold and Bill Selby to name just a few. I value greatly the contact the courses give me with these and other artists, both professional and amateur, and can not imagine the year without this very valuable input.
I show work at the Wykham Gallery Stockbridge, the Walker Gallery Harrogate and Bath Contemporary Bath.