Vivienne Bolton in Bath Society of Artists Show

Nona 001

You’ve just finished the Drawing 1: Drawing Skills course and have succeeded in getting a portrait of your mother in to the Bath Society of Artists show at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. That must feel good. How do you think the OCA course helped you achieve that?

It feels both exciting and humbling in equal amounts. It all happened so fast, as I had thought I had missed the deadline for entries. There had been no plan to enter; I finished Mum’s portrait and with three days to get it framed I thought ‘why not have a go?’ I picked the drawing up from the framers on Friday night ready to submit it the following day. I couldn’t have been more surprised and overjoyed when I received the card with ‘Accepted’ typed on it. I entered the same exhibition many years ago and was rejected, but my work with the OCA gave me the confidence to try again. The OCA has definitely improved my drawing ability and with the motivational support from my tutor, I feel quite different as an artist from when I first started. I am less daunted by subject matter and ideas keep springing up for other works, which wasn’t something that occurred before.

How did you choose the pose for the picture?

It was actually based on a photograph I took of Mum a few months ago and I liked both the frailty and the strength in the pose and wanted to capture something of the expression as she glanced away to focus on something that had caught her attention. Mum hates having her photograph taken so it was a quick shot taken without her knowing until she heard the camera click. The photograph was stuck up on my office wall for a while, so when I completed Drawing 1 and felt in need of a project I thought I would tackle Mum’s photograph in pencil. I am a great fan of Paul Emsley, a local artist well known for his portraits of Nelson Mandela and The Duchess of Cambridge. Many of Emsley’s works are completed in pencil and black chalk, so I thought I would adopt a similar approach for the portrait. It was a surprise for Mum to see it completed and framed.

What sort of thinking did you bring to bear on the portrait? Did you set out with a plan, or just take it as it came?

I tend to take it as it comes, especially when working from a photograph. I started the work on the Monday just for the sheer pleasure of doing it and built it up in blocks of time and finishing it on the Wednesday. The head and scarf were produced in pencil, and the cardigan and background a combination of black pastel and charcoal. I wanted to emphasise the whiteness of her skin and hair without making it too stark because for me that implied frailty. Many folk, when they get older, say they feel invisible which was also something I wanted to capture, but I had no way of knowing how to do that except by acknowledging a need at the beginning of the process and letting fate and my hand do the rest.

There’s something special – and brave – about having such personal work on display in a public space. How did it feel to see your work on the wall?

Yes it does feel special to me, but I’m not sure it’s brave as I just jumped into it last minute, without really thinking. However, to see your work up on the wall with so many really good and locally well-known artists such as David Cobley and Peter Brown, feels quite humbling. There was a moment when I thought, ‘goodness what was I thinking – am I really good enough to be seen so publicly?’, but it didn’t last and was mixed in with the elation and joy of achieving a long-awaited dream to have my work displayed at the Victoria Gallery. I felt ecstatic and tearful, proud and a little scared, all in split seconds of each other. I keep metaphorically pinching myself and going back to see it displayed to prove it wasn’t a dream! Because it was selected I feel a little more recognised for my work. You expect your OCA tutor and family to be supportive, but to have a panel of strangers acknowledge its worth from 600+ other entries definitely makes it one of those memorable life moments for me.

What’s next?

My next steps are to continue with the OCA – I’ve already enrolled on Painting 1: The Practice of Painting – and to eventually complete my BA Hons in Painting. I love drawing and will continue to explore my creativity and ability to see where it takes me. Yes I have my dreams and its true they feel a little clearer and closer to me now but I want to keep my options open, great things happen when you least expect them as my work displayed at the Bath Society of Artists current open exhibition has proved.Nona by Viv Bolton 004

You can see Vivienne’s work at Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery until 31 May. The entrance fee is £3.00
Gallery opening hours:
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00–17:00
Saturday, 10:00–17:00
Sunday, 13:30–17:00
More information here


  1. bryaneccleshall 9 May 2014 at 1:38 pm

    When I put this together with Vivienne I didn’t want to impose my views too much, but feel I should say something about the portrait.

    There’s something captured in the eyes and the pose that shows a strength and dignity in the face of age. Although I haven’t seen the work in the flesh, the pencil work on the face looks subtle and effective. The stark black background frames the face well. I particularly like the way the sitter is looking at something ‘out of shot’ rather than at a book or at the artist. I don’t see enough of this in work submitted. Done badly it can look like one of those ‘catalogue’ poses from the 1970s, but here it allows the artist to really look at the face without too much self-consciousness.

    Aside from the emotional content, which is strong, the scarf adds texture and pattern to the picture, which enriches it enormously.

    Congratulations, Vivienne, on getting selected and for finishing Drawing 1. But mainly for making this portrait.

  2. SueG 11 May 2014 at 12:20 pm

    Well done Vivienne, a beautiful work.

    1. vivbolton 26 May 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Thank you Sue, I really appreciate your comments. Its good to have feedback both positive and constructive, as it helps me grow and develop, otherwise its easy to get stuck in a vacuum

  3. Jeannette Coleman 26 May 2014 at 5:27 pm

    You have captured a short and sweet moment in time. That swift, interested glance belies the delicate, paleness of skin and hair. Sorry, the image ‘got to me’

    1. vivbolton 30 May 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Wow, thanks Jeannette for your sensitive engagement with the subject – I couldnt have asked for more…..


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