Mentoring the artist’s way. Dip into the Wylye Valley Art Trail.
Anthony Connolly, recently listed as one of Britains top portrait painters by the Mall Galleries, was my A-Level art teacher. I remember him coming into class and singing sentences accompanied by playing his guitar. I loved the way he taught without actually ever saying very much. He’d say ‘black is never just black’ then walk away to let us figure out what on earth he meant.
Once, when we were modelling clay heads (and I was having a bit of tantrum about the eyes on mine), he came over, moved me from my seat, sat down and proceeded to gouge a hole into the clay head right where the eye was! He then formed a perfect sphere and fit it into the hole and built layers over it, creating eyelids.
I will never forget that lesson. He taught me to ‘see’, to find structure in my drawing and look for negative spaces among many other things. Anthony Connolly is also one of the participants in the WVAT (Wylye Valley Art Trail); I am still in awe of his work and consider him a friend as well as a mentor.
After completing my graphic design and illustration degree, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. I felt that I hadn’t chosen the right course and really I should have tried Fine Art. But there I was, with a design degree and a huge desire to paint and no idea of how to go about it!
In 2007, I happened upon a brochure for The Wylye Valley Art Trail. I visited some of the venues local to me and I was hooked! What a fantastic thing this was! I met actual working artists who offered advice, quite often accompanied by tea and cake (always a winner). They showed me their methods (many offer takepART events where the public can have a go or watch a demonstration), talked about ideas and encouraged me to get involved.
So, that year, I nervously contacted the founder and coordinator of the trail, Nick Andrew and asked if I could help. He was brilliant and invited me to help when I could. Another mentor and friend enlisted!
I participated and helped out on several trails after that. Then, Nick asked if I would consider taking over as coordinator for 2015. This is my second trail as coordinator and, whilst it has been a lot of work and commitment, the rewards have been great and the chance to mentor new artists to the trail has been the best bit. If just one artist comes away from the trail having gained confidence in their own work then it will have been worth the effort.
It is still very much a team that puts together such a large event as WVAT. We have over 360 artists taking part this year, at over 75 venues. There are established artists such as Matthew Burt and David O’Connor exhibiting, along with many emerging talents. There are painters, photographers, printmakers, sculptors, potters, jewellers and even a couple of milliners this year!
Each year we evaluate feedback from the previous trail and act upon it. For this year’s trail, we arranged for our artists to have their work professionally photographed as part of the entry fee, which has had fantastic results for our website www.wvat.co.uk and brochure. Many of our participants have commented on how effective that has been. The brochures have been flying out of the venues they’ve been delivered to (mainly tourist info centres, libraries and art centres amongst other places), so much so that we’ve had to order 5000 more!
Our artists are now on ‘trail countdown’ now as it kicks off on Sat 27th May and runs for 9 days until the 4th June. Personally, I am at the creative phase of ‘doing all the work whilst crying’ in an attempt to have something to show other than a very long list of emails!
Laura Rich, Wylye Valley Art Trail Coordinator