Words: Lara Candido Porter / Pictures: Remco Merbis
Lucy envisioned her new studio as a Japanese-style summer house, with a bold, black exterior and cool, natural interior tones. The garden building company wasn’t convinced, and contacted her several times to check a mistake hadn’t been made with her order: ‘Are you sure you want it in black? Black?’.
The studio was made, and Lucy sent the company a picture of her new creative hub in all its tranquillity. The company replied to thank her, as several garden cabins have since been sold in black.
This ingrained instinct for what works guides Lucy through life and, most notably, her art, which captures the beauty in nature that is often overlooked—even discarded.
It’s a real honour to meet Lucy at her studio, as it feels that this is a sacred space, cocooning ideas and paintings the outside world may never have the privilege of experiencing. The bright, autumnal morning illuminates the studio as Lucy settles on her reclaimed WWII collapsible bed-turned-sofa to tell us her story.
What do you make?
I paint the beauty of nature. Everything you see.
For my first show, I set myself this task of painting 500 flowers. I ran out of flowers really quickly and, I thought, hang on: weeds are flowers. So, I painted them too. They turned out great, because they are flowers after all.
I then started looking more and more at taboo plants, which you're not allowed to look at because they're weeds and they should be pulled up immediately; but, I just started drawing them more and more. Once you've done your flower beds or your pretty flowers in the field, you start looking deeper and find unbelievable specimens.
I always try to learn things and put that into my work. At the moment, I'm investigating time, because at 5 o'clock the shadows distort the light in a different way and you get new patterns in nature.
How would you describe yourself as a maker?
I have to go broad and say artist. I don't really like labels—because, as soon as you go with one label, that's it. People stick to it. Artists can paint anything; so, that's what I would say is me.
I’m very attuned with nature. Everything I have is natural. You can understand life a bit better if you focus on the seasons. ‘Why am I feeling so low? Oh yeah, because there's been no sun’. You know? All those little bits. They all feed into each other.
So, I think that's why I go with artist and naturalist.
When did you start making?
I think it's always been a process, for all artists it is a process—from the minute you know that you like something creative. I always remember waiting for the art class at school. Art, I could always do it, so I just followed that, not knowing where I would go.
If you look up my older work, it’s very different from what I do now. I was trying to go into illustration and down the Hallmark road, but people were contacting me to buy the originals. My work was very colourful and done in felt tips—very of the time illustration.
So, I'd sell the originals. I did my first set of 24 botanical paintings, all on different coloured paper, and this guy in San Francisco said, 'Yeah, I would like to put on a show of that’. And that is how it started.
What made you the maker you are today?
I had a bad skiing accident that left me with a brain injury. I got very 'What's the point? Is this my life now? I'm just going to be ill?' And my father said, 'No, no, no. Come and help me in the garden.' I was so weak—my brother had to carry me down the stairs, just to get down the stairs—but doing that, going out in the garden, felt good.
It’s quite poetic, but seeing something grow, you get really into it and realise hope is on the horizon. This taught me a lot about life: you've got to be patient for the good things to come. I think that shaped me because it made me very strong and realise that, ‘Okay, I can carry on doing this’.
Then I just started drawing plants. On mass. I just had a stack of paper and I started drawing and drawing and drawing, and I think that moment in time shaped what I do now. It also made me—it just got me feeling life again, feeling very happy without trying to do something. Painting and being out gardening made me happy.
Now, if there’s a garden open day, I’ll go. The Chelsea Flower Show, Hampton Court, any garden. You’re walking into someone's living artwork then. I'm just doing it on paper. It is all just about noticing things.
What philosophies inform your work?
I think because I am still having my art teach me, I haven't got a specific philosophy that informs it. It is just growing with me.
As I change as a person, my work changes. Maybe later down the line I will have a philosophy; but, for now, I just have words of wisdom that help me to continue. Never say never is a favourite. And, recently, I was talking to someone and they said, ‘Always follow the love’.
Why is it important to create?
I've been wrestling with that lately. Ultimately, you just do it.
I think it's just something that comes naturally, if you can. Some people can naturally run a mile and not get out of breath, and they love doing it.
I'm just one of many who has a vision to put out there. Monet is one of my favourite artists. Why does he feel it's so important to do the Lilypads and all that? He didn't, it just spoke to him.
It’s important for other people to know they can create, too. It's not like a taboo thing. I read somewhere that David Hockney said kids draw before they can read or write—it’s instinctive. It's mark marking. We had drawings in caves before we had anything else, so I think that question can go all the way back to the beginning of time.
Do you have a favourite place?
I think it comes down to memories in different places that make them my favourite—wherever I have a sense of freedom. You don't have to be self-conscious, you can just do what you like, and that's really important to me. That can be swimming in rivers, walking in a new city by yourself, or experiencing new cultures.
There is a river in the town my father’s from in France, and it’s a happy place where you're just completely chilled. Again, it's nature, isn't it? There's nothing around, you just rock up, walk down the lane and it's just this beautiful river where everyone's sat out and swimming.
I am pretty in love with my studio right now, but I guess that’s quite an obvious one. You are very lonely here; but, at the same time, I definitely need to recharge my batteries by myself. Also, I don't want people looking at my work before I know what I think of it. So, that's why I like this place so much. I have to be far away.
Lucy’s summer house studio is nestled among the rural peace of Bath’s beautiful surrounding countryside. She shares the farmland with the flowers, leaves and weeds that inspire her work, and a few rogue pheasants that tap at their reflections on the studio window.
Every morning, Lucy ignites a stick of Palo Santo and blesses the studio with notes of pine, mint and citrus. The wood is treasured in South America for its therapeutic healing powers, positive energy and for bringing both love and good fortune. It’s Lucy’s favourite smell and she believes that, along with her crystals, it brings her closer to the earth and the nature she connects with every day.
What’s the story behind your studio?
I met two tree surgeons in the local pub that I was working in. They knew I was looking for studio space, and showed me the barn that they worked in that was, well...covered in mould, had mice and only three walls. They said, 'We'll put a wall back for you’. I said, ‘Yeah, OK, thanks’.
They had to pass the idea by the landowner, Mr Ritner, who was fine with it, and I worked there for just under two years.
Mr Ritner was a man that wouldn’t tell you anything you wanted to hear. Once, I was wearing a shirt and he goes, 'That doesn't suit you’. I said, ‘Oh, right, thanks, Mr Ritner’. He replied: 'You're welcome. I'm off now,' and just got in his car and left.
That said, he had a heart of gold. When my work was taking off and I saw one of these garden buildings at the Chelsea Flower Show, I said to Mr Ritner, 'What do you think about putting a garden building on your land?'. He loved the idea, saw the potential in me—he's definitely my patron—and said, 'Yup, we'll set up a contract and put it on my land’.
I was getting loads of commissions and I thought by doing this, putting down a sort of property, I was doing it properly. You know, go all in or go home. That's the way of doing it.
This brush is my favourite. It cost £2, and I came across it one day and it just works.
Every time I struggle to paint anything, working with this brush and this ink from Germany always works. You sort of break in a brush and then—I could paint in my sleep, or something. It is really important to me because you need something you can go back to and it just works. 100% it just works.
If I had to get rid of everything and start again, I would just have these two objects.
This painting is number 474 out of 500. I numbered them because they say if you put in 10,000 hours then you become a master of what you do; so, I thought if I can do 500 then I can become a master of painting flowers.
I always come back to this one because it’s when I noticed my style changed, number 474. I was like, 'I did it!'. I just love it.
I have to include the studio itself. As soon as I get the heater going and put the radio on, six hours can go by in what feels like half an hour— and that's why it's so important for me, and helps me capture the beauty of nature. I would never be able to get it as beautiful as it is in nature, no way. I think that's the thing I noticed, the day when I was trying so hard to get this shadow, it’s about capturing something in the beauty, making it look magical.
Remco Merbis, founder (1999) and creative director of visual storytelling agency Pixillion.