Studio in conservatory1
Fran White

Fran White

Moving Studio

We didn’t know we were making memories; we just knew we were having fun…

A. A. Milne

My studio is my sanctuary and haven. It is the place I go to find myself and lose myself. It is at the very heart of my home as it is not just one space – it is and has always been many different spaces as my life and circumstance have required it to be at the time.

This reminds me of the James Baldwin quote about home: “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”.

My studio is most definitely my irrevocable condition because I am, at my very core, an artist.

What is it that defines me as an artist? – The way I dress, deciding which outfit to wear each day can take almost as long as making a painting! The way I see things, the intuitive way I work…

We moved to Cooks Farm in September 1981. My first studio was in the sewing room, which became ‘my room’ as soon as we moved in. The previous owners had called it the Gun Room. Early on I had a window knocked through in the eastern wall which makes it a haven in the morning sunshine. I chose this room as it was close to the front door. I made the room next door, previously the boiler room, into a darkroom where I developed, processed, and printed my photographs, both in black and white, and colour. I called this studio my sewing room because at that time I principally was sewing. This was very much my space, apart from a short time when it became our eating room; I think we must have been making changes in the kitchen at the time. Due to its location by the front door, anyone who wanted to use the downstairs loo had to walk through my space – this was a bit more of a problem when Angus started Architectural Plants, as the Nursery didn’t have a loo, but he soon designed and built a staff room and loo, so the inconvenience was brief.

Books, drawing & research in the Sewing Room

I started my Linen Hire business, which was based in London, in August 1979, and I collected, collated, and photographed my collection of fabrics in this room. I also made clothes, repairs to woollen garments and edged any fabrics I had bought for Linen Hire. My mother-in-law did most of this work, making new fabrics into small tablecloths & napkins to hire out for backgrounds for advertising and editorial photography. I also sorted my photos and stuck them into albums here.

Importantly I used this space more fully when for 2 years I studied A Creative Approach to Textile Design, a distance learning course with the Open College of the Arts. This was a bit like an Art Foundation. We were introduced to collage, screen printing, natural and synthetic dyeing and stencilling amongst other skills. We met once a month in Brighton to discuss our work, otherwise, we studied on our own with the excellent manual. After that, for another 2 years, I joined a weekly class at The London Institute on a City & Guilds course taught by the brilliant Betty Myerscough. Here we were introduced to more skills including machine embroidery, silk painting, drawing, and designing.

The conservatory was built in 1984 essentially to house and grow plants – this was before Angus started Architectural Plants (1988/89). Angus and a fellow cabinet maker made a beautiful cherry wood floor. In 1991 my mother commissioned a painting of me and my children for my 40th birthday, which was set in the conservatory.

Fran, Tom & Sal 1991

Early on we used the space for kids’ parties and large family parties/gatherings, such as The Loynes for all the descendants of my husband’s granny, for my father’s 70th, and as a sitting room for Tom’s wedding in 2009. Subsequently, I started using the space more to paint by myself in addition to all the courses I attended. One of my watercolour tutors and friends Jane Grinling and I also did a lot of paintings in the burgeoning studio.

When I started College in 1995 our neighbour, potter Clare Sutcliffe, was really into life drawing and suggested she invite a model to our house to pose in the conservatory. In the end, we worked in my bedroom as the conservatory was far too cold. This eventually moved to the boathouse and was taught weekly by Francesca Clarke – a tutor who became a great friend. After renovating and re-decorating in 1999, I had my loom in the conservatory for a while, then I started using it as a showroom for my nascent business Fran White Woven Textiles, latterly named The Linen Shop. Sal cut and edged masses of swatches for me in here on the overlocker machine which I’d been lent by a friend. In 2004 Edith Pargh Barton and I worked on a Big Draw project initiated by 2×4 Artists which we were members of at the time. In the conservatory, we wove all sorts of leaves and other natural fibres into frames we made. I also stored my paintings and art materials used in courses with Emily Ball at Seawhites. I gradually began to inhabit the space more with huge pieces of paper to scribble and/or paint on which I displayed all the way around the windows.

Edith Barton prep for the Big Draw

The things I appreciate most about the conservatory space are the light, the space, the moveable white walls which I had bespoke made, and the incredible views. My plan chest, which I bought in 1999 to house my linen fabric samples, is now full of paintings, sketches and drawings and is also in the conservatory – home to so many memories.

Recently we have started a much-needed renovation on the conservatory, so I have moved into the Model Room, now known as the Winter Studio. This space has been through many guises, often it became a bit of a storage room for excess furniture etc. When we redecorated it in 1996 Angus and Tom made models and built Technic Lego here, hence the name. Once I started commissioning huge bolts of linen fabric from various mills, we used it to store my stock before opening a showroom in the Boathouse. In 1999 I ordered a bespoke industrial rolling machine to measure and cut my fabrics. This vast piece of equipment was housed in this room until we had it dismantled in 2018.

Working in the Winter Studio

I will miss the conservatory studio as it affords me space to stand back and view my work from afar, but the conservatory was due to a major overhaul. Also, due to the impending energy crisis, it cannot be used in the winter as it is not insulated or heated. This summer Angus has been addressing all the problematic areas, mending all the rotten woodwork, and leaks, and replacing the whole of the floor which he has painted with waterproof floor paint.

This all reminds me of the passage of time; how a house and home adapt and change with its inhabitants.

Going forward, now that I am fully retired from The Linen Shop, I plan to focus fully on my art.

Undoubtedly my art has been affected by what sometimes has felt like huge upheavals. In 1994-1995 Penny Hopkins taught me to draw, I saw her advert in the barn where I did yoga. This helped further my journey along the road of going to college as did support from Betty Myerscough, who helped complete my application form.

I didn’t know I was an artist until very recent times…

I didn’t know I was an Artist, mixed media

Despite studying with The Open College of the Arts and The London Institute, I was blind to the fact that I was, in fact, an artist.

In 2014-2015 I attended a course Art as Autobiography, tutored by Katie Sollohub at Emily Ball at Seawhites. This was very instructive as I worked a lot with the idea that I didn’t know I was an artist in my youth or for a lot of my young adult life. I have several paintings and pastel drawings with that very title. I also did lots of self-portraits.

Slowly and steadily, I have come to accept and appreciate that I am an artist. This has given me a profound sense of peace. I can give myself permission to act out this role whether I’m painting and exploring in my studio, sketching outside, travelling at home and abroad, visiting exhibitions or attending private views. It allows me to notice, react to and be grateful for all the unexpected gifts that appear almost unannounced.

It enables me to be myself.

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