Skip to main content Close up of Pgisrn… Gprins… Spring, a painting by Kate Phoenix.

Inspiration: Bluebell Paintings

As an artist, I am inspired by nature, but I do not paint scenes from the natural world. My paintings are not abstract reiterations of the physical appearance of the woods, or flowers, or birds. Rather, I paint how I feel when I am immersed in nature. I try to capture the giddy euphoria of standing amongst a riot of wildflowers, or the calm from resting in the quiet coolness of a pine forest. Painting how I feel, rather than what I see, also opens up the opportunity for the viewer to play a more active role in interpreting the work.

Kate Phoenix standing in a field of yellow rapeseed flowers.

As spring ran into summer, M and I took a trip to the Forest of Dean to see some old friends of mine. It is an area of forest on the border between England and Wales. Entering the forest feels like transcending into another reality, full of silent pines, steep valleys, which fall away into fast-flowing rivers, and winding lanes, dotted with sheep. Humans are invaders here. This land belongs to itself. It belongs to creatures that prowl and creep, but which flee at the sound of footfall.

A landscape with a river running through the mid-ground, overhung by grey clouds.

Murder ballads are gouged in the bark of the trees and in local memory. Witches and wizards abide in this land, and it is evident why mystics are drawn to a place like this. Whichever beliefs your heart settles on, and I don’t believe in magic per se, this is a place that whispers secrets. Branches stroke against the wanderer’s skin, only to spring back, with seeming indifference. The wind breathes amongst the spring fauna, like an ancient deity, blowing over a bottle top. And all the while, the ground is soaked in the heavy, earthy scent of pine.

Pine tops against a grey sky.

We sat in our friend’s living room, fingers enfolded around cups of mint tea, deciding where to go. I hoped we would see bluebells.

We decided to go to May Hill, and on the drive out, the forest floor was liberally peppered with cerulean blooms. At the edge of the road, the valley fell away in a tapestry of bluebells and wild garlic, with stark, thin pines sticking up through the riot of colour, like Giacometti sculptures. We bounced around in the back of our friend’s Nissan, down narrow lanes, through old mining towns. These places whispered the histories of their communities, united by back-breaking toil.

Bluebells in a forest.
A group of tall pine trees.

I remember the sky from that day. It was full of potbellied, cumulus clouds that hung low over the landscape. The rapeseed flowers were out in the fields below. We could see for miles, right out to the Welsh mountains, the khaki fields interspersed with neon yellow patches, and all of it under an oxidised silver sky. 

A dark landscape with patches of bright yellow and mountains in the background, overhung by heavy grey clouds.
Kate Phoenix standing in a field of yellow rapeseed flowers.
A yellow rapeseed field, under heavy grey clouds.

On our descent homewards, the sun shone through the heavy clouds, bathing the bluebells, in a warm, magic hour glow. We met two wild horses, who treated us with supercilious indifference.

Bluebells in a forest, bathed in a shaft of sunlight.
A woman stroking a wild horse, next to a wall.

I have produced two paintings, inspired by the bluebells we saw that day. The first was a forest scene I had already started in ink on canvas. Initially, I thought it was finished and the illustrative style worked well, but when I revisited the painting, I could see it was too neat and controlled for the way I work and express a sense of place. I felt much more comfortable when I started working in acrylics. With the paint, I could convey movement and life in the wildflowers. The subtle splashes bear a sense of uplift and growth. I like to think of them as pollen floating into the sky, preparing for new growth in the following year. Now the painting is finished, the combination of detailed, illustrative techniques and the more abstract, painterly areas, work really well together.

Abstract painting of bluebells with trees in the background, by artist Kate Phoenix.

Electric Bluebells, Kate Phoenix, 2017, acrylic and ink on canvas, 90cm x 65cm.

For the second, much larger canvas, I wanted to create a joyful, uplifting piece of work, which embraced the birth of spring. I mixed a vibrant, complimentary colour palette of emerald and forest green, cerulean, indigo, turquoise and violet. It has a really rich, verdant quality. Copper leaf and antique gold acrylic paint, create lustre and texture. Again, the splashes of paint add to a sense of uplift, fertility and abundance. The viewer could be looking through a window to Wonderland, or Narnia, lending the work a fantastical quality. It possesses the beauty, energy and depth that I set out to achieve. The title, anagrams of ‘spring’, which eventually rearrange into the correct order, represent the resplendent disorder, the perfect imperfection, of the season.

Large abstract painting of bluebell woods, by artist Kate Phoenix.

Pgisrn… Gprins… Spring, Kate Phoenix, 2017, acrylic and copper leaf on canvas, 1.5m x 1.2m.