Artist, Dawn Gabrielle Chandler captures the Lake District in a box
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 August 2014
An artist from Gatebeck has found a new and intriguing way of capturing the essence of her favourite Lakeland places, as Sue Riley reports
Most artists strive not to be stereotyped and put in a box but that’s exactly what Dawn Gabrielle Chandler is hoping for with her new series of paintings of some of the Lake District’s most popular towns and villages. Her Kendal street scenes have sold well over the years but now Dawn is capturing her favourite places in a different way – by painting still life items on shelves and in wooden boxes.
Her picture of Rydal contains a shelf full of poetry books, porcelain sheepdogs, narcissi and a badger to represent the popular Badger Bar in the hamlet. Another, of Troutbeck, has a yellow plastic duck referencing the popular annual duck race and dominoes representing the strong community Dawn found there when she started her research. And her painting of Grasmere acknowledges the village’s literary history with lots of books by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey.
‘Rather than doing a picture of Rydal itself I wanted to do something a bit different, I want to depict an area, it’s a great way of getting a message out there, rather than it just being a still life it says more and there’s more scope to have fun with it,’ she says. ‘I am trying to get almost a stained glass feel to it.’
Her picture of Kendal contains references to Farrers coffee roasters, Webb’s lettuce (the nursery where it originated is now the site of Marks & Spencer), the castle, K Shoes and of course mint cake. But at first glance it’s not all evident, you have to look into the painting and explore it. ‘I couldn’t put everything in, it’s just my take on it. People can work it out for themselves, not everything is spelled out,’ says Dawn. ‘I love doing the shelf pictures, they are visual metaphors. My street scenes looked too much like a photograph for me.’
Working in gouache, she concentrates on one picture at a time. Once she’s thought of a theme she will spend weeks drawing out a plan, researching and making notes. Then she creates the still life in her studio, her favourite part of the process. Using a cardboard box to make the shelving, she raids her Robert Stubbs’ dolls’ house for miniature items to fill it with. ‘I can spend hours pushing things round with a pencil getting things just so, I wonder if I’ve ever grown up, I love miniatures,’ she says. When she’s finally happy she starts to paint.
Much of her spare time is spent in her studio above the garage of their detached cottage in Gatebeck, near Kendal. In one corner is a former display unit full of old shoes which used to be in her father-in-law’s shop. Those shoes provided Dawn with the confidence to develop her own artistic style when she started painting them a decade ago and people liked them. The shoe pictures sold at local exhibitions and she went on to paint several antique pairs in Kendal’s Abbot Hall Gallery’s collection which are rarely on show to the public. A year later Dawn was accepted into the prestigious Lake Artists Society, quite a coup as it is limited to just 45 artists working in Cumbria.
Although she’s sold a few dozen pictures – her shoes have been particularly popular selling for between £150-300 at local shows and in London where her work has been exhibited – she’s hoping her shelf images which go on display at this year’s Lake Artists Society shows will also be popular, although in a higher price range at £600.
A practising artist since she left art college in Carlisle in the 1980s, Dawn feels she has finally found her niche. She says she could probably be a full-time artist if she continued with her popular street scenes, commissions and portraits but is having to fund her change of artistic direction by working part time as a cleaner at Windermere School, fitting it in around family life with her husband Scott and teenage twins.
‘The local street scenes sell quite well, they are the bread and butter pictures, but I have tended to stop doing them. It’s not about the money for me, it’s about the work I want to do. I probably could give up the cleaning if I did bread and butter paintings but it’s more important I am doing things I want to do.’
Dawn will exhibit her shelf and box paintings at the Lake Artists Society’s winter exhibition at Rheged, Penrith, from November to February.