As a special treat to celebrate the launch of our British Birds Special Edition blankets, we have a lovely free gift for every customer who orders a throw from this collection. We decided to commission a local artist to paint five watercolour portraits of the birds that inspired the colours of the blankets.
As The British Blanket Company is a family business through-and-through, who better to paint them than the Mother of our founders: Somerset-based artist Bridget John? Come along with us to meet the artist in her studio and see the creation of the paintings. You'll receive as a free set as notecard prints exclusively when you order one of our new British Birds blankets!
If you could meet any artist – living or dead – who would it be and why?
In my early teens and began taking a real interest in art, especially the Impressionist Movement. Vincent van Gogh became my particular favourite. His paintings are so vital and vivid; his creative drive so strong, that it overwhelmed him.
A few years ago, we had a holiday in Provence and visited Arles and St Remy. We followed the trail of Van Gogh’s life; the buildings, streets, olive groves and fields that feature in his famous works. It was both a truly inspiring and a sobering experience. There were so many questions I would have liked to have asked this wonderful artist and tormented soul.
Which 3 artists would you collect work by, if money was no object?
Vincent Van Gogh – obviously!
Egon Schiele – for being unconventional
Imogen Bone – because I love the sea too!
What influences your work?
Currently, I’m making a conscious effort to incorporate sketching into my daily life whenever possible. I keep a tiny sketchbook and ink pen in my bag and, when I’m out and about, I take five minutes to sketch whatever I see. It’s great practice to draw a moving scene quickly and try to capture character of people as they go about their lives.
What do you listen to as you paint?
Usually podcasts. I enjoy listening to true crime – mysteries solved and unsolved. Recently, I listened to 13 Minutes to the Moon, a fascinating insight into the Apollo space missions.
How do you discover new art for your own home?
I love to visit local art studios and galleries. Somerset Art Week is a highlight of my calendar, when artists open up their homes and studios to visitors. It’s a great way to meet artists, discover new work and to explore the local area. Witnessing creative people at work is always hugely inspiring.
What’s your favourite medium to work in and why?
Although I enjoy experimenting with different medium, I usually resort back to using acrylics (with some mixed media thrown in). It allows me to be quite messy and to paint over mistakes!
Have you always been an artist?
No, before retirement I was a primary school teacher for 35 years.
How did you transition from teaching into your own art practice?
In my last few years of teaching I was given the opportunity to teach Art to five classes in the upper primary age group. It was a treat to encourage the children’s creativity, develop their ideas and experiment alongside them using a whole variety of materials. When I retired it was a natural progression to develop my own art practice, something I’d had little time to do while teaching.
What has been enjoyable or challenging about that transition?
I have spent most of my life in school, so when I retired it was easy for me to become a student! There are so many talented artists who are offering workshops and courses. I have been inspired and found the transition from being a teacher to student very enjoyable. The hardest thing is finding enough time to do everything I want to do.
How have you connected with local art scene?
I’m a member of Urban Sketchers, an organisation with groups all over the world for people to meet and sketch the city where they live. Regular sketch-meets take place where sketchers draw at a pre-arranged location, then share and compare their work over a cup of coffee. It’s very welcoming to people of all abilities and I’ve even joined other groups as a guest while on holiday. During lockdown my group has taken our sketch-meets online, ‘travelling’ on Google Street View to cities around the world and sharing coffee on Zoom. It’s great fun!
What advice would you give to others who want to get into practicing art later in life?
Be brave, get out, join groups and classes. It can be difficult to get going on your own without inspiration from others.
What is your favourite British bird and why?
We are fortunate to live in the countryside where birds are plentiful. Rather than having one favourite, it’s seeing the variety of species we can attract to our garden that I enjoy the most. I love watching and listening to them all!
Tell us about what you enjoyed about painting the birds?
Rising to the challenge and being able to contribute in a small way to Bethan and Joe’s British Blanket Company.
How did you capture the character of each bird?
I think it’s all about the eyes! I was keen to achieve a balance between adding enough detail so the birds are recognisable, whilst embracing the loose, watery quality of paint. I used a feather to spatter the paint to give a suggestion of background and movement. For the final versions of the paintings, I painted the eyes last of all. By that point I’d painted a few drafts and got a feel for the character of the bird appearing on the page.
Which is your favourite of the British Birds blanket designs?
Another difficult question. I would like one of each but, as we’ve just finished decorating our guest bedroom in deep, inky blue, I have my eye on the Blue Tit blanket… first!
What’s it like for your children to be running a company together?
I continue to be amazed by how talented and enterprising Bethan and Joe are. It is lovely for me to see how they bring their different skills to the business and how their friendship has developed through working together. I am very proud.
Bridget John's watercolour prints are available exclusively as a free gift when you order a blanket from the British Birds Special Edition Collection. You'll receive a set of five postcard size prints which are perfect for use as notecards or can be framed for your wall. To place your order and receive your free gift, visit the British Birds collection and choose your favourite!
[Photographs: Joseph John for The British Blanket Company]