Featured artist

Laurie Jones


My interest in image making started with photography in the 1940s. Both my father and my maternal grandfather were keen amateur photographers. We lived next door to my mother's parents and my grandpa had his darkroom in a shed in the garden. I was born in 1931 and my first memories of making pictures was during the blitz in 1939 or 40.

Grandpa had a big collection of glass plate negatives going back to his own youth in the late 19th and early 20th Century. He let me make prints with a printing frame with pieces of ‘printing out’ paper. This was left out in the sunshine for an hour or so during which time the image gradually appeared. It didn't need chemical development but you just had to wash out the remaining silver chloride with a fixative and then wash all the chemicals out. With the impatience of youth I was always keen to open the frame and peel back the paper to see how far the image had appeared and whether it was ready to fix.

During the war my father had his darkroom in the cupboard under the stairs and later moved it into the loft. He made an enlarger from my Grandpa's old bellows camera and we spent many winter evenings in the freezing dusty loft with a dim red safe light. It was magic to see the image emerging in the developer dish as you rocked and stirred it with your fingers. That's regarded as much too dangerous now, but I know of no-one who came to harm.

I was always interested in the technical side of photography and it was taken for granted that we did all our own processing, weighing out and mixing the developers – including processing colour films, which were mostly slides in those days.

During wartime my education was severely disrupted by several periods of evacuation – and when it settled down in the mid 40s many teachers were still away in the armed forces. I was in the academic fast stream trying to catch up lost years to complete my General Schools Certificate, with the result we had no teaching in art, music or handicrafts. That was offset by the fact that my father was a handicrafts teacher, so DIY is almost in my blood.

My interest was definitely in the sciences, particularly chemistry and biology. The interest in photography coupled with chemistry and experience in weighing out and mixing chemicals for the darkroom gave me more incentive. These days most of the chemicals we used are regarded as dangerous and not readily available for amateurs.

At Reading University we mixed with students of all disciplines. One of my friends in the hall of residence was studying Fine Arts – and I began to appreciate the overlap between painting and photography and to take an interest in image making in whatever medium. After graduation with a degree in Botany, Zoology and Chemistry I went to an evening class in drawing and painting, but once I married and started on a PhD. There wasn't much time.

I met my wife at Reading, where we overlapped in chemistry lectures. We both joined the sailing club and eventually sailed together in the University team. Our interest in dinghy sailing has been a continuing weekend activity ever since. Consequently boats have featured in a lot of my paintings. Photography, however, continued to be one of my main other hobbies – and still is.

It wasn't until I retired in 1995 at the age of 65 that I finally took up art. It was the time when Comprehensive Schools were at their peak and the Government was keen on adult education. Courses in fine arts were available in Sharnbrook Upper School and I joined a class called ‘Learn to Paint and Draw’ led jointly by Alison Head and Michael Croker. They were excellent mentors and complemented each other in their approach. We met once a week for an afternoon session, and we were expected to submit a portfolio for some of the modules for the Open College of the Arts qualification.

I went to their classes for a few years, gaining experience in a wide variety of media and a range of techniques which have served me well. For a couple of years I also went to Michael Croker’s life classes on Monday evenings in the superbly equipped art room at Sharnbrook. We were in a group including the A-Level Sharnbrook students, because they needed to complete a portfolio of Life Drawing for the exam but couldn't have nude models during the school day. They were all talented young artists and it was an inspiring group to be in. It was very good training for fast observation and rapid drawing – with many 5 or 10 minute poses, and working with charcoal on large sheets of brown parcel paper.

Then the government's attitude changed and the courses were directly aimed at professional career development, following a rigid curriculum with a fixed syllabus. At the same time were evicted from the well-equipped art room and made do with the woodwork shop. None of us were headed for career development and by that time most of us retirees decided we did not want more exams, and had enough skills to go away and do our own paintings.

Without the discipline of setting aside an afternoon a week I got nothing done, as there were always too many things to get done at home and plenty to occupy my time. After an unproductive couple of years a local art gallery owner suggested I join John Black's group at the Shed and I have spent my Wednesday afternoons there ever since.

I never get round to doing any painting at home. The art classes had convinced me that watercolour was too difficult and required too much planning ahead to retain the highlights. A few watercolours have worked out well and at one stage in the 90s a group from the art class used to go out and paint together in the school holidays when watercolour is the obvious medium.

I have since had a few successful watercolours, and am getting better at it. I find it much easier to work from a mid-tone ground and use opaque media – charcoal, pastel, oil or acrylic – which can be worked up in layers and overpainted as the picture develops. Most of my successful pictures have been in acrylic or pastel and they tend to emerge from the initial concept sketch with time as the picture develops. They are mostly based on photographs, usually my own. I'm trying to get away from straight copies and to get a bit freer with the paint.

From my experience of processing colour prints I realised that all the subtleties of tone and colour in a photograph are achieved using only three colours: cyan, magenta and yellow (plus black for economy with printer inks) – so it should be possible to paint anything using these three ‘process’ colours. I spent some time attempting this but I was already familiar with the standard 'primary' colours and colour wheel, and had invested in the usual range of paints. I did a picture of a Canadian barn and typical laid fence in ‘the fall’, partly to confound my then tutor who said you couldn't do orange with these pigments. I did a few paintings in this way but I didn't persevere once my original tubes of paint were used up.

The lesson I learnt was that how you divide the visible spectrum is quite arbitrary, and primary colours can be red/green/blue as the eye sees them, cyan/magenta/yellow/black for colour printing, or red/blue/yellow for the standard colour wheel we learnt in primary school. Since then I have tended to use a very restricted set of pigments on the palette and to mix most of my secondary colours.

I don't seem to have developed any particular 'style' or stuck with any particular subject matter. Most paintings are inspired by various holiday trips, so tend to be landscapes or floral studies arising from photographs taken on holiday. A recent pastel is of seaweed on the beach in Criccieth. I have also tended to experiment with a variety of media including oil pastels which were given to me as a Christmas present. I also attended two courses at the Bedford Recreation Centre doing lino cuts and another by Michael Croker on portraiture.

This year I went on a 3 day sketching course on Hayling Island – again, run by the Bedford Recreation Centre. We were recommended to bring watercolour soluble sketching pencils and travel as light as possible. It was a most enjoyable and instructive few days and I have tried to do a bit more with them since – but I've still got a lot to learn.

My final illustration is my latest picture using the pencils to depict the Piazza in St Pauls Square Bedford from a photo I took in 1975. It hasn't changed much in over 40 years. Even at the age of 87 it’s always good to try something new and it's always a challenge.

Laser dinghies racing

Acrylic, from a magazine photograph


RS 200 dinghies racing

Acrylic, from a magazine photograph

Bromham churchyard gate.

Painted on site during the Sharnbrook student days


Watercolour, from a photo in a friend's garden on St. Marys, Scilly

The house on the Fjord

Acrylic, from a photo taken on Norwegian cruise


Acrylic, from a photo taken on the Northumberland coast

The Red Barn

Composition using Process colours; Cyan, Magnea and Lemon yellow

From a photo taken on Criccieth beach

Pastel, 2013

Recent study from a photograph

Watercolour pencils, 1975




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