The home and studio of artist Anna Thomas is not the easiest place to find, but I knew I must be in the right location when I saw a woman waving cheerily at the side of the road with trousers splattered in a rainbow range of paint and a dog at her side, writes Amanda Penman.
“I thought it would be better to wait for you here as it can be a bit difficult to find,” she said as she led me up the path to the house which nestles in the gently rolling landscape just south of Ashbourne.
Once inside Rose Cottage there was definitely no mistaking that you were inside the home of a creative clan, as there was artwork filling every nook and cranny – each piece a little part of their family history.
Anna’s father sculpted and her mother painted. Anna’s own early work was in stained glass and ceramics; her children also have artistic flair and their more contemporary work is mixed in with that of their mother and grandparents.
It was while struggling on a nursing degree that Anna first realised she actually wanted to study art, and she swapped to an A level art course by day and life drawing classes in the evening.
She then went on to study Art and Psychology at Surrey University, following it up with an MA in ceramics.
“At the time it felt like the most natural thing to do. I found I loved everything about art, from the paper and paint to being scruffy and working late into the night. It made me happy,” she explained.
Following her degree Anna had some success with large scale commissions for stained glass and ceramic murals in several London hospitals, but then took a step back to bring up her family.
“When my four children came along I concentrated on them, but art never leaves you though, and I found ways of channelling my creativity into a variety of costumes and props for the children,” she said, later showing me some of the fun results dotted around the house.
“As the children grew older I found I had time to concentrate more on fine art and I started working on smaller sculptures and paintings and exhibited at the Ashbourne Festival Summer Art Exhibition a few times.
“The turning point for me was when one of my paintings was selected for the Derby City Open in 2012. Following on from that Geoff Robson invited me to present my first solo exhibition at the Derby Cathedral Centre.
“He was so supportive it gave me more confidence with my work, so a lot of what has happened since is thanks to him,” she said.
That success let to her being spotted by Mark and Petra Courtney at St John Street Gallery in Ashbourne where she has had two solo exhibitions and always has work available.
“They have been marvellous and I am really thrilled to be in their gallery. They give me so much advice and I can just leave all that side of the business to them while I get on with the painting which is just how I prefer it to be,” she said with a huge smile.
Anna is fortunate to be surrounded by winding lanes, brooks, hedgerows, fields and plenty of wildlife which provide her with endless inspiration for her work.
She tends not to feature the wider landscape but instead concentrates on the closer detail such as cow parsley, swelling buds or flitting birds.
“When I stand outside and paint I feel very much part of it all. I never know when inspiration for a new painting will occur, but I return with an easel or sketchbook and make a series of sketches or create a loose painting,” she said.
“At that point I am using my eyes but then I return to my studio and I use my memory and that is when it becomes more interesting – when it shifts from what you see to what you feel – the sounds and smells, the chills or the heat come through.
“The best state to be in is when I do not think about it; then it just pours out of me. Initially I work quite quickly and freely and I have no idea where the painting may lead me.
“Sometimes they evolve into something quite abstracted, others may end up being quite close to the original place. Somehow I just know instinctively when it is complete.”
Anna is one of the eight commissioned artists for the 2017 Ashbourne Festival Summer Art Exhibition and her work can be seen at the Town Hall Ballroom from June 17-24.
You can also see work by the artist as part of the Adam and Eve exhibition in St John Street Gallery from today.