It was during childhood holidays that the tides of Yorkshire’s east coast captivated the imagination of a young Heather Burton. It was the tides of life which led her to move away from, before being inescapably drawn back to, her love of art.
Reminiscent of the North Sea waves so frequently captured in Burton’s paintings, her artistic career was, for a time, swept aside as she opted to hone her craft with the pen of a journalist rather than the brush – or as is now more frequently true, the knife – of an artist.
While a love of the English language was the predominant force behind her decision to pursue a journalistic career, it was also dictated by the fact that, in her teenage years, the notion of making a living from art was very foreign.
“Back then I think it was very different. I don’t think anyone was encouraged to make a living out of art. It wasn’t seen as a profession,” she explained.
“Opportunities for artists are probably a lot more forthcoming now than when I was leaving school.”
When asked if she recalled her inaugural artistic creation, no specific work was immediately forthcoming but, after a moment to ponder, a childhood pastel rendering of the Flamborough coastline was Heather’s first recollection of making art.
This memory emerging seemed to stir up a wide variety of thoughts from the past, and it was at this point that the artist’s long-running connection to Yorkshire became most evident. “Flamborough was one of my favourite childhood haunts,” she cheerily recounted, “we used to holiday there a lot. And always Staithes. I do the Staithes festival now and absolutely love it.”
A self-proclaimed ‘honorary’ member of the Yorkshire artist community, the Lincolnshire-born painter is – just like the inspiration behind her expressive canvasses – rooted firmly in God’s own county.
Both for herself and the area’s wider artistic population, Heather believes Yorkshire is the perfect place for any creative practitioner.
“From my perspective,” she stated, “I get huge support from galleries along with the public and media response. I think Yorkshire has a vibrant artistic community and that is really growing now.”
Fast and loose
While a bad workman blames his tools, a talented artist will always extol the virtues of their chosen instrument. The aforementioned knife has been the artistic apparatus which, to date, has brought Heather the greatest deal of critical success.
“I started with a palette knife because when I was using brushes – particularly with oils – I wasn’t very good at washing them,” she explained in a typically open and endearing fashion.
“I always say that my brushes were more like knives anyway by the time I’d finished with them, they were that hard.”
The real, less self-deprecating explanation was subsequently proffered: “A fellow artist suggested I try using a knife because I’ve always worked quickly and freely. She said I should try a knife with acrylics and it was something I took to straight away.”
“The best thing about the palette knife is that you get so much freedom; taking you away from all the detail and encouraging you to be loose and open,” she added.
Cited by several Yorkshire Art members as a key part of their working practices, music is something which plays a big role in Burton’s painting routine.
“The physical side of painting with the knife is very interesting. You can almost be dancing around the canvas. Something which is certainly helped if you have some good, loud music on.
“Then you’re almost painting to the mood of the music and it makes for a really tactile way of working.”
Using the knife also gives Burton the flexibility to think, and subsequently paint, in a free and uninhibited style. She explained: “If I find myself getting a little too detailed or tight, I get a larger knife and it forces you to think bigger and more broadly.
“It also influences you when you go back to working with a brush: It makes you think and paint in looser terms.”
A big future
When asked what the future holds for her art, Burton needed little – if any – time to contemplate. “Much bigger canvases,” she enthusiastically announced.
“I would love to have a go at painting something enormous, something that fills a whole wall.
“At the moment, logistically that wouldn’t be possible as I couldn’t fit it in the car to take it anywhere so I don’t know if it’s a good idea!”
Size is not the only element which she has considered altering in future works. “I would also like to develop the compositions more,” she revealed, “to make them a little more complex and varied.
“With art, you’re always confronting something which makes you think and inspires you to try new things. You end up with a stack of ideas.
“I am now, perhaps more so than ever before, looking to push boundaries, to push myself beyond my comfort zone.”
Where the journey beyond the realm of artistic safety takes the Howden–based artist, only time will tell, but while Heather Burton’s passion for journalism remains afloat, it is to the great benefit of Yorkshire and its perpetually-growing art scene that the particular tide which carries her penchant for paint has never been higher.
by David Styles