What a treat we had lined up for us on Monday 20th September! As part of the Deep Roots Festival, organised by Arts Destination South Molton, the brilliant local artist, Hester Berry, was booked to paint her self-portrait in just one and a half hours, live streamed on Zoom from her Bishops Tawton studio.
I’ve been an avid supporter of Hester’s work, since getting a call in 2005 from her art tutor at West Buckland School, Nigel Minard, saying he had a pupil he thought would go far in the art world – he certainly wasn’t wrong. Starting out as a talented youngster, she went on to study art at university, lived in Brighton for ten years progressing her art career, then moved back to North Devon deciding this was where her heart was. Now she is invited to hold solo exhibitions across the UK and has a committed following, with many of her paintings in private collections.
Hester is a self-assured artist, confident in her use of brushes, pallet knives and applied paint; she looks at her subjects and landscapes as just shapes and light and shadow. As we watched her sketch out her own self portrait from a photo on her phone, Hester explained that breaking down subjects this way enabled her to remain impassive and to not get bogged down by detail.
During the evening the audience were invited by the moderator for this event (local artist and photographer, Karolina Andreasova) to ask the audience’s questions as Hester painted, also raising her own and chatting. Without any qualms, Hester answered the questions put to her whilst continuing to paint – something most would find rather daunting. One questioner asked if she got scared when starting a portrait, to which Hester’s short reply was, “Yes”, reassuring our audience that being nervous was a natural feeling for everyone and one to be dealt with.
We were able to watch Hester mixing colours on her palette (an old door, nothing fancy) as well as focusing on the primed wooden panel she had chosen to paint on: we quickly saw her self-portrait emerging. Using a chisel-ended brush her mark-making was both thoughtful and bold, picking out the darkest shadows first, before adding any highlights. With just a few minutes left, there was only a little background to add in; then time was up!
It had just flown by, with no letup of audience questions and the friendly dialogue between Karolina and Hester – I’m sure we could all have quite happily stayed longer watching and listening to this fascinating artist. I’d certainly love to see the completed self-portrait – with its background!
To see Hester’s work, catch up on her latest exhibitions, or find information about her painting workshops, please visit her website.
To discover the future events Arts Destination South Molton have in store, please continue to visit our website and sign up to our newsletter.
Stella Levy, Arts Destination South Molton