Colour conversation with the artist, Vanessa Bowman

For this week’s blog post, another ‘colour conversation’ with people who champion colour in their work and everyday life, I’ve been talking to the Dorset-based artist, Vanessa Bowman, whose work embraces colour and observes the beauty of everyday objects, from a bunch of garden flowers to a striped shell and a bowl of lemons.

 I love the simplicity of your compositions. What inspires your choice of subject matter?

It is largely dictated by the seasons, as I centre the painting around the colour and shapes of the flowers. I then work in shapes and colours through objects such as jugs, cups and found objects, which relate to each other in the composition.

In spring and summer, I often paint hedgerow flowers or flowers from my garden, and going into autumn there are the warmer colours of berries and hips, along with accents of last of the summer garden flowers. Winter is mainly about painting bulbs such as hyacinths, paper whites, or snowdrops – cooler colours and muted greys. Colour pops come from accents of a bright cup or vase, or perhaps a tangerine or lemon to lift the painting.

Can you describe the creative process?
It involves setting up a still-life on a table in my studio, where I observe in detail, say, a jug of flowers, mapping out their shapes in pencil. I usually paint on card or board or primed canvas. In pencil, I then draw in shapes of objects or fruit around that image to create an overall composition, and start applying the oil paint, which I use fairly thinly, almost like watercolour, thinned down with painting medium. I build up layers of colour until I feel that an overall balance has been achieved.

Do you have a favourite flower that you return to time and again in your paintings?  

Snowdrops, for their beautiful simplicity in shape and colour, and hellebores in spring for their delicate, subtle colour and beautiful markings. I love painting irises, centaureas and geraniums, as well as anemones and tulips – in fact, most flowers appeal for their infinite variety of colour and interesting shapes and form.

As an ‘Autumn’, how much is your seasonal palette reflected in your art?

It’s reflected in the way I am often drawn to those colours in the flowers and objects I select to paint. My favourite jug is a wonderful mustard yellow, and I went through a period of painting with a lot of teal (against ivory anemones and a jewel-like deep red radicchio).

I love the autumnal colours and markings of winter squashes and pumpkins, alongside the rich shades of dahlias and chrysanthemums.

Describe your studio…

My studio is at the bottom of my garden, and is a glorified cricket pavilion! It is being replaced this summer, but will still stand in my vegetable patch, surrounded by trees, flowers, soft fruit and the hills beyond. It’s a real sanctuary away from the house.

Can you sum up your painting style in three words?

Colourful, naive, patterned.

Which artists influence your work?

Mary Fedden, Matisse, Winifred Nicholson, Anne Redpath, Piero della Francesco, St Ives artists, Vuillard, Picasso and many more…

How does colour make you feel?

Colour plays such a key role in my paintings. I get great joy from finding the perfect foil for, say, a yellow jug against a grey background. Generally neutral colours make accents of bright or opposite colours ‘sing’ in a painting. The intensity of pigment that you can achieve with oil paint is a large part of this.

 What colours form the basis of your wardrobe?

Largely neutral colours, which I pair with an accent of a brighter colour with a scarf or jumper or jewellery. I’m a fan of yellow, teal and warm brown shades.

Last great colourful buy?

A beaded necklace with an orange neon tassel!

And finally, do you have a favourite colour?
Mustard yellow, but I also can’t resist a gorgeous magenta in my paintings.

For further information about Vanessa’s work, visit

Photographs by Katharine Davies

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