Fieldwork Project, April Update

Oops it's been ages since I've written a blog.  I've been so busy!  You may have seen in my last article, in January, that I was challenging myself to work only from my original sketchbook material, memory and imagination.  No photos.

I thought the project would last for a month (with the work going in to the North Down Craft Collective exhibition in February), and here we are at the end of April and I'm still doing it!  I think with the exception of one piece, I haven't painted a "normal" landscape from a photo this year.  Even the one that I did, I did the sketchbook work on it first and it was really smooth sailing to paint. 

The benefits I've noticed of sticking to a methodical sketchbook practice:

  • My observational drawing skills have improved
  • I'm so much more immersed in the place I'm drawing.  You really don't get that with a quick photo-and-run.  It's paying dividends in my confidence for developing further paintings, I have a much deeper understanding of the place.
  • I make very few mistakes in paintings, having made them already in my sketchbook.
  • I'm excited about everything!  When I sketch, I don't always know what I will use it for, if anything - I certainly have no idea what any finished paintings might look like.  Each day (or hour, or few minutes) out in the field feels like the first step of a new adventure.  There's often a period of no particular feeling towards a sketch, but then one day I'll do something else, the dots will join up and I suddenly know I have a direction for my next piece.  It's a great feeling, that moment.
  • As I'm not one for details, I've developed a method of working with shapes and colours.  I'm working in bold colours, it's a new language to communicate in and I'm really enjoying that freedom of expression.
  • I'm therefore working in a completely different style when I follow this process, my work feels fresh to make and interesting to look at and talk about.
  • And oh my, the THINKING!  Spending so much time on a piece, especially abstract work where you don't have any "copying" to relax in to, shakes out a lot of stuff from my busy brain.  Paintings take on meaning, it influences what direction I take it, it can make me happy or a bit upset or just weirded out, it's quite the trip.  I think it makes the work more unique and authentic, they're different beasts to my straight-up landscape paintings.
  • I finally have fun sketchbooks to flick through and show people, and they actually relate to completed work. They have stories.  They are stories!
Jenni Robinson Art work hanging in the North Down museum

It took me a while to get over the "embarrassment" of making radically different work, I really did think people would be like "what does she think she's doing?".  Or maybe you are giving me a hard eye-roll right now!  People have really been interested and encouraging.  Especially my artist friends who, by-and-large, are rogues at heart and have been very "F*** yes!" about the whole thing haha.

Thank you to North Down Craft Collective, and the North Down Museum, for giving me the platform to show those first 4 works in public.  It was a big deal. 

I've had 6 pieces in Boom Studios' Spring exhibition since then, which I really ought to have written about but didn't.  Hopefully you saw them on social media, go check them out!  The Spaces in Between, shown below, was one of those.

There aren't really any cons to the working process, except maybe the hours that go in to a piece.  It's not a negative thing, of course, but until I get more confident and can work faster (I feel it getting better), the hours I'm putting in to a single piece isn't necessarily cost effective!  Like this one below.  If you've been following me on social media, you know how much went in to it!  I don't mind telling you, I'm proud of it.

There's been one significant career milestone that has come out of the new work.  I submitted a concept for an outdoor installation piece to the ForM sculpture festival.  Held in Bangor Castle Walled Garden (pictured), in June, it is a curated selection of 20-30 sculptures and installations, chosen from artists around Ireland.  Including, this year, me!  I can't believe it.  I'll do a separate blog about that as it's a whole concept thing but I could not be more delighted. 


Abstract painting "I'm Sorry You Can't Stay" based on Bangor's Walled Garden.

So as I write this, that is the project that I am immersed in this past few weeks, and for the next few. I have to make a panel, and have been developing sketches and compositional ideas in my sketchbooks.  Finally, I moved to a development painting, shown here, which is a dry run for the final process. It won't be the exact same, because the work is intuitive.  But here is a preview at the culmination of all the work so far.  This painting was a massive mind-bender and the test piece is a sombre little thing.  The final one will have a new colour palette.  But this test gave me the method that I'll use, so it's a big success and I have a lot of love for this painting.  It's called "Sorry You Couldn't Stay".  It's not available just now. 

It's the first painting that I can really see traces of my favourite 2023 pieces in.  It wasn't intentional, but when I was looking at it I thought, "that bit looks like the rocks painting", "I've used a similar method to the trees painting there", and it was quite an emotional moment.  For the first time I think this might be a permanent shift in my process, at least for an extended period.  

It makes me nervous because will anyone buy them?  I've sold one bigger one so far which I'm over the moon about.  But everything I've made has been for one exhibition or other, now finished, so now I have to do the absolute least favourite thing - take them places and ask "what do you think of these"?.

Time will tell.  I want to know what you think though!  Let me know in the comments.

I feel like I haven't said half of what I wanted to tell you about the new work but this is a very long read already so I'll put a cork in it for later.   Thanks for sticking-with x



  • Ah that’s wonderful Helen, than you! I’m really enjoying your work, it’s reassuring to know this happens to other people haha. Onwards xxx

  • I absolutely resonate, my work has also taken a dramatic shift in direction and it’s exciting and terrifying but I can’t seem to let go of the old direction just in case this stuff won’t sell! And I feel very inspired to sketch book! Helen x

    Helen McKnockiter

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