How artist Evelyn Bartlett captures the Hampshire scenery
PUBLISHED: 12:11 20 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:11 20 August 2018
With her bold, graphic designs, New Forest artist Evelyn Bartlett captures the magnificent scenery on her doorstep
The freshness projected by reducing scenes to their simplest form is evocative of innocence. But don’t be deceived into thinking seemingly straightforward tableaux and limited pallets are easily attained, a cushy alternative to high art. On the contrary, creating an understated image requires as much appreciation of technique and composition as the busiest canvas.
“Michelangelo has always been a hero of mine,” Evelyn Bartlett confides, “and I love Caravaggio’s light and dark. I’m interested in how colours react; contrasts fire me up. Scenes verging on silhouette attract me. To get depth and richness you have to look at colours in shadow; there are all sorts of tints in there.”
Evelyn’s degree in Graphic Design led to book jacket design work for a publisher followed by freelance illustration commissions. Her success was interrupted, however, when her first husband developed MS. She became his carer, putting creativity on hold until moving to Hampshire in 2007.
“By then,” the 64 year old explains, “graphics had run away on computers. I just wanted to paint and I was keen to sell my work so I put some paintings into a little display at Ashlett Sailing Club and sold three. Then I took part in Hampshire Open Studios where I sold some more. I was amazed; this was a real boost to my confidence.”
Along the way Evelyn produced an illustration of a marmite jar. Comfortable with this style, which provoked interest from admirers, she decided to focus on this poster-like form and a medium which is a throwback to her college days.
“When asked to produce a mock up of something printed, gouache is what you’d use. It’s wonderful! Gouache is powdery, flat, very matt and dries quickly, the thick watercolour paper I use soaks it up.”
At this point I take a guess and suggest she works en plein. In a bedroom now dedicated to her art, north facing and with plenty of shelving and worktops, she laughs at my assumption.
“I’ve tried but I’m either blinded by the sun, or there are insects on the page or the wind is blowing my hair! I paint indoors at a table, not even an easel. When I go out with my camera I nearly always point it into the sun, which gives bold contrast and outline. I work from photos I’ve taken, reducing them down and moving things around, first with a pencil. Then I drop in a colour that is opposite on the colour wheel, to draw the eye. Colours help each other. Occasionally I’ve done something almost monochrome, maybe blues and light blues.”
We discuss the ability to capture light on water, a skill I particularly admire and a focal point in a number of her images. Fetch is the perfect example. Minimal colours initially trick the viewer into seeing a simple seascape. Yet the realism of the sunshine’s reflection has you reaching for your Ray-Bans. And despite Evelyn’s past dread of trees, “how do you make them interesting?” Peace reveals that, whatever mental doubts about forest images she may have previously harboured are behind her. This painting, with sunlight reaching through trees and touching water, is evocative of the sort of summer day that demands a gentle stroll followed by an unhurried picnic amid dappled shade.
We go on to discuss titles, prompting another unexpected revelation.
“Recently if I’ve been stuck I’ve been looking at poetry. My best subject at school was English, I was consistently good, better than art! For A Level we studied Gerard Manley Hopkins, Browning, Chaucer. When I started on Hopkins I thought, I get this, these are like bunches of words; you can feel the enthusiasm in his heart when trying to describe something such as a cherry tree blowing in the wind, a visual image.
“As a kid I said to my mum, I want to leave something behind me that exists after I’ve gone, to prove I was here, something that people like. I feel I’ve lived my life backwards. I’m now doing what I wanted to do years ago.”
To see for yourself a selection of her timeless images, go along to this year’s Hampshire Open Studios (18-27 August) where bright land and seascapes will be displayed at Lepe Country Park.
Meanwhile, in Langley, Southampton, on the edge of the New Forest where houses peter out and the beach is just a cycle ride away, Evelyn enjoys what she describes as “a quiet, forgotten corner of Hampshire.” Quiet maybe. But also a place which inspires tantalising images, a combination of graphics, illustration and painting, as evocative today as past eras and created by an artist whose mission to make an impact is behind her worthy success.