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Colour conversation with artist Sarah Bowman

Can you tell an artist’s seasonal palette just by looking at their paintings? We put Johannes Itten’s theory to the test with Devon painter Sarah Bowman, and talk to her about the inspiration behind her sought-after still-lifes.

The Swiss Expressionist painter and theorist Johannes Itten, who taught at the Bauhaus School in Germany, observed that, irrespective of the landscape or subject placed in front of his students, they would consistently use a palette of colours that not only reflected their individual colouring but also their personality (whether, for example, they were introvert, extrovert, rebellious or bold and authoritative). Itten linked these ‘subjective colours’ to the four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – which became the foundation for seasonal colour analysis.

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Picking up on a strong resemblance to the Summer palette in the work of Devon artist Sarah Bowman (her boutique accommodation, the Hayloft on the edge of Dartmoor, is featured in our latest competition), we decided to put Itten’s theory to the test through colour analysis. Read on to find the results in our latest Colour Conversation…

So tell us, Sarah, was Johannes Itten’s observation correct? Were you diagnosed a Summer?

Yes, the Summer shades that I am instinctively drawn to in my window scenes and, more recently, my still-lifes – greys, jade greens, soft pinks, accents of blue, primrose yellow and amethyst – are the colours that were identified as complementary to my cool skin tone.

I discovered that my wow colours, though, tend towards stronger shades in the Summer palette – Blackberry, French Grey, Burgundy and Jade Green, and I love that my seasonal palette contains the vivid cherry red that I always wear on summer holidays. It’s such a good pop of colour with a tan.

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Sarah, wearing Smoked Grape, Delph and her wow colours

During your career as an artist, you’ve shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and won the Mary Fedden Award at the Royal West of England Academy. Did you always want to be an artist?

Yes, I come from a family of painters – both my father and sister are established artists. After school, I studied at Wimbledon and Falmouth Art College, and then after a spell working in Edinburgh, I moved to Devon with my husband Jolyon in 2002 and set up White Space Art Gallery in Totnes. We live on the edge of Dartmoor, in Ashburton, and I paint each day from home in my attic studio. My paintings are hung throughout our home, including the Hayloft next door, an old hay barn, which we have renovated into a luxury accommodation for two, and we get lots of lovely feedback about the art on the walls!

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Where do you look for inspiration for your work?

The shapes and colours of nature. Since we’ve had our dog, Rosie the Cockerpoo, I’m able to spend more time outdoors, walking on the moors, observing the hedgerows, the patchwork fields, the colours of the heathers and gorse, the greys of the drystone walls, and generally drawing inspiration from nature and the landscape. My love of gardening has grown over the years too, along with my knowledge of plants and flowers, and that all feeds back into my work.

It used to be that my ideas came from paint-splattered postcards and boxes of worn photos from my trips to Cornwall. Nowadays the artist’s environment has evolved dramatically, and I now have at my fingertips a library of images on a screen, a virtual platform on which to show my work and view other artists’ work. The access to inspiration can seem a little overwhelming at times. The trick is to find the balance, not be inundated.

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We love the harmonious tonal colours and the pared-back simplicity of your recent still-lifes – the feeling that less is more…

The objects in my newer paintings have as much to say as the space that surrounds them. The act of painting them is quietly meditative, the colours gently hum, holding them together. I love mixing dulled-down muted, quiet colours like grey and illuminating them with a flash of pink, purple or blue.

But I also love working more detail and colours into what I call my ‘through the window’ paintings – the view of a Cornish quayside with a pink ice-cream van; A Devonshire stone cottage in rolling fields; a Provencal lavender field. These scenes are derived from memory – an amalgamation of all the places I have visited over the years.

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top left - Melissa (Spring) in Kerry Green and Sarah (Summer) in French Grey Ziggy Sweaters

right - Sarah wears the Deep Jade Cashmere Gauze Stole

Are you inspired by other artists?

I especially admire the work of Winifred Nicholson, Mary Newcombe, Ann Redpath, but once I start painting, I’m less conscious of their work and my own starts to take over.

Last great colourful buy?

Dahlia bulbs for the garden! My garden is one of my great joys and I love how watching how it changes through the seasons – the snowdrops poking through in spring, gentle lavender beds in summer, the vibrant dark red of a smoke bush in autumn. As the pace of life becomes ever faster, it’s wonderful to be able to take inspiration each month from nature and to take comfort from the small, simple things in life. There’s a hymn that my granny used to love and one of the lines still resonates with me: “Daisies are our silver, buttercups are gold/these are all the treasure we shall have and hold.”

To view Sarah Bowman’s work, visit White Space Gallery in Totnes, Devon, or visit the website at www.whitespaceart.com

Enter our competition to win a stay at Sarah’s boutique accommodation, The Hayloft, in Ashburton – here 

If you would like to book an appointment with a colour stylist for a full analysis, click here to find one near to you.