This month’s creative space belongs to Ian Lettice. I met Ian through the Friends of Putney School of Art and Design, and discovered his wonderful studio during Wandsworth Artists’ Open House.

Ian Lettice's studio

Ian Lettice's studio

He first noticed the building that is now his studio when helping out with the local scouts. Once a bomb shelter to the factory building that is now the scout hut, its door hadn’t been opened for 20 years. Ian had to drill a hole in the door panel and (bravely!) reach in to open it from the inside. Once inside he found spiders’ webs from wall to wall and from ceiling to ceiling – and even found albino spiders that hadn’t seen the light of day for all that time. He’s kept the entrance as it was when he found it (minus the spiders!) in honour of its former life.

Entrance to Ian's studio

Entrance to Ian's studio

Having cleared it all out, and obtained permission to use it , Ian set about transforming it into an art studio. He had to drill through the incredibly thick engineering-brick walls to form the windows, inserting frames he made himself, under RSJs be bought on eBay and drove to Devon to collect.

Windows and ceiling

Windows and ceiling

Often mistaken for painted wood; the ceiling is in fact an early example of shutter formed in-situ concrete, of the kind used for the National Theatre on London’s Southbank.

Crack in the studio floor

Crack in the studio floor

A crack runs the length of the space, now mostly hidden the by the floor boards – all of which Ian found in one skip! The crack is only visible in the entrance area as seen above, but certainly adds character and intrigue. As do these items; all salvaged from the hut during its renovation.

Items found in the hut

Items found in the hut

This hatch at the far end of the studio was the escape hatch of the bomb shelter to be used if rubble made the main door inaccessible. These days it’s just handy for letting a bit of daylight and sunshine in.

Escape hatch

Escape hatch

Ian also reinstated an original wall, which would have protected those inside the shelter from shrapnel should a blast have blown the door into the space. The wall’s function is now to house an inspirational collection of art books.

Bookshelf built into the wall

Bookshelf built into the wall

Now a full time artist, Ian spends most days painting, either in his studio or en plein air in the local area. And his ingenuity extends to his art equipment. The picture below is a still life set-up in the studio.

Still life set-up

Still life set-up

And the resulting painting… (more of which on Ian’s blog).

Brace Drill painting

Brace Drill painting

He has also constructed his own pochade box for painting outside (en plein air), not a new idea, but something Ian tips as an upcoming trend in the UK, which is already gaining popularity in the States.

French box easel

Pochade box

A more permanent desk houses Ian’s collection of paints, paint brushes etc.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Despite this rather impressive selection, he tells me that almost all of his paintings are created from just two brushes and these six colours, in varying combinations…

Ian's six key paint colours

Ian's six key paint colours

The skill of mixing colours is crucial to painting, and something you have to learn through experimentation. It can’t be taught, and the learning process has to be repeated for every new colour introduced to the set.

Colour experimentation

Colour experimentation

Ian described the way he paints as colour matching – it’s all about getting your brain out of the way and just putting the colours you see in front of you onto the canvas, almost tile by tile or pixel by pixel, rather the painting the image as a whole. He said that paintings are about something, not of something, and I think that comes across in his work – it captures the essence of what it depicts rather than representing it photographically.

Propeller blades

Propeller blades

And if you want to see for yourself, Ian currently has exhibitions at the Duke’s Head in Richmond and the library in Putney.

Ian and some of his work in the mirror with cross hairs for self-portraits

Ian and some of his work in the mirror with cross hairs for self-portraits

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Further reading for the especially geeky:

Full disclosure: I am  member of the Friends of Putney School of Art and Design committee, with responsibility for social media including the Facebook Page