Across the North East, artists will be opening their studios in June and welcoming visitors as part of the Art Tour 2014. Meet an artist, watch an artist work, buy something attractive from the artistic hands that made it... the appeal of this annual event to art-lovers is as compelling as ever.
For the artists there’s the chance to meet the people who might treasure what they create... or not. It’s the opportunity to chat, to pitch, to explain or maybe to eavesdrop. All useful insight.
The Art Tour, which began back in 1996 as part of the Year of the Visual Arts, has grown. Once limited to artists in Northumberland, it now embraces most of the region and the organisation that runs it has rebranded and changed its name to Network Artists North East to reflect the expansion.
The little orange balloons on the Art Tour Google map show that art tourists can plot an itinerary stretching south to north from Ferryhill to Coldstream and out beyond Haltwhistle in the west.
Exploring art studios in the Northumberland National Park could take up one of the four Art Tour weekends, while another could be swallowed up by an art-inspired mosey up the coast.
Every year, the Art Tour is a dramatic illustration of how much creativity buzzes away in the North East, whether urban or rural. Plunging a pin into the Art Tour map, it fell upon Jina Gelder who, at 25, is participating in her first Art Tour. Hopefully it wasn’t – and won’t be – too painful for her.
Actually, it wasn’t entirely a random choice. Jina is a bright and talented young artist whose entrepreneurial spirit identifies her as a likely beneficiary of Art Tour exposure.
She graduated from the University of Cumbria, Carlisle, in 2011 with a degree in illustration and has been working professionally ever since. I first met her in 2012 when she was exhibiting at the North East Art Collective gallery in Newcastle’s Eldon Garden shopping centre. During the Art Tour she will be exhibiting in Allendale, Northumberland, with three other artists based at the Allendale Forge Studios, brainchild of go-getting Amanda Galbraith who raised £1m in 18 months to get the complex – cafe, gallery, shop and 12 studios – up and running. Jina secured a year’s free use of one of the studios as part of Amanda’s scholarship scheme aimed at creative people aged 18 to 30 who need a bit of business support.
For Jina it has proved invaluable. She travels to Allendale from her home in Denton Burn, Newcastle, three days a week and says that while it does cost her quite a bit in petrol money, it gives her a break from home.
Her mum, who sounds likes a saint, long-term fosters a very lively young autistic boy with, it seems, no off switch or volume control.
Jina, who has grown up with a succession of foster brothers, clearly loves him to bits but, as an artist, needs head space to work.
“Being at the Forge has expanded my client base because more people know I exist,” she says.
“Since being here I’ve developed quite a big product range and I’ve been collaborating with some lovely people such as the glass artist Rena Holford (another Art Tour participant).
“I’ve been able to use her kiln. Everyone I’ve met has been really helpful. My business was pretty much flourishing already but it has definitely been good to have the studio. I like people coming in to watch and see my work develop.
“Sometimes they’ll stand in the doorway and then go away because they don’t want to disturb me, but I don’t mind at all.”
All this, of course, makes Jina an ideal Art Tour participant. She is taking part with two other scholarship holders, printmaker Anna Casey and leather worker Robert Ford, and also Liz Whiteside, a painter who specialises in animals and fanciful landscapes.
Jina focuses on British wildlife, working from life and also from photographs. She has an arrangement with Warkworth photographer Kevin Murray whereby she credits him for any of his wildlife shots that she uses.
Asked what her favourite creatures are to paint, Jina replies: “People always assume it’s hares because they’re my most popular, but I prefer painting
“Because you have to paint each feather individually, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. It takes me hours and hours.
“If I’m having a day when I can’t really get my mind in the zone, I tend to paint birds because I can really lose myself in the process.”
Usually quite a quick worker, Jina says a recent subject, a peregrine falcon attacking a pigeon, demanded a more measured approach.
But all of this she will cheerfully explain in person if you visit Studio 1, Allendale Forge Studios, during the Art Tour when she will have paintings and a range of merchandise on sale, and will also be giving painting demonstrations.
Art Tour 2014, with more than 40 artists in 26 locations, takes place over the four June weekends with studios open from 11am to 5pm. For details check www.networkartists.org.uk