Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Getting Arty with The Paint Republic

If you were to ask me to rate my artistic ability on a scale of one to ten I'd be hesitant to suggest I had a skill level beyond about a 5. I love art (I nearly did a degree in art history) and would love to be the sort of arty person who can effortlessly sketch a family portrait or make a beautiful home made birthday card. But in all honesty, I'm most definitely not gifted with natural artistic flair. Since starting a job at Aardman - where creative people abound and walls and desks overflow with amazing storyboards, cartoons and concept artwork - I've never felt more artistically inept.

So I was curious to hear about a new painting club that promises to show people that you can make art - actual art you might even want to hang on your wall - whatever your ability. The Paint Republic has been holding events in London for some time and has recently been spreading its wings across other cities in the UK, including Bath. 

The concept - 'Paint and Sip' - is simple; you're invited to unleash your inner creativity (and I was assured at the beginning of my session that it was DEFINITELY lurking in there somewhere) in an informal setting that involves - you guessed it - the odd glass of wine, G&T or whatever you like to drink of an evening.

By taking away any suggestion of stuffy art classes filled with earnest people and intimidating teachers, The Paint Republic makes for a much more informal way to pick up a paintbrush and learn some basics.

For my class, we were invited to have a go at painting a picture of Paris but this isn't a prescriptive art class - you can follow the leader's instructions to the letter or go a little freestyle, trying our your own technique and artistic flourishes. Oh, and did I mention your art class is most likely to be held in a bar?  See, it really couldn't be more different to your average night school art class.

Armed with a G&T and all necessary tools (everything you need is supplied) I was feeling at ease about putting brush to canvas for the first time in about 30 years. To an eclectic background playlist of everything from the Stone Roses to Spandau Ballet, our lovely instructor took us through the steps to creating our Parisian scene, a suitably impressionistic piece featuring the Eiffel Tower, background buildings and a reflection-filled river Seine.

It has to be said that sipping on a G&T in between brush strokes really helps to loosen things up a little, somehow unleashing that aforementioned creativity without you really having to try. Once I'd painted my Eiffel Tower and added reflections, I started to really relax into things and I think my technique began to improve as a result.

Another thing that struck me afterwards was just how absorbed I'd been in my painting - the simple act of putting brush into water, then paint, and then onto canvas really is a restorative balm for a busy brain like mine. For the first time in a long while I really felt lost in an activity, unhindered by mental and technological distractions - I barely glanced at my phone all evening.

After two hours, the promise of creating a wall worthy artwork was realised - everyone in the group had produced something that looked pretty darn impressive for a beginner. It felt like two hours very well spent and a refreshing change from my usual week night activities. 

It's worth pointing out that I went alone which is a big deal for me - I can be quite shy in groups and was worried beforehand that I wouldn't enjoy the evening without being able to share the experience with a friend. 

In all honesty, it might have been more fun to have had a friend to compare notes with but there was also something quite special about experiencing a couple of hours' painting unencumbered by the need for any conversation - like I say, for me the experience of being totally in the moment with my paintbrush was a very restorative thing and perhaps I wouldn't have been able to surrender myself so entirely if I'd been with a friend.

The Paint Republic also offers private and corporate events; I think the experience lends itself perfectly to a bit of light team building and personally I'd much rather paint than paintball. Public events anyone can go to are currently trialing in Bath with sessions lined up for March, April and May, all taking place at the Hall and Woodhouse Bar, located just off Milsom Street. Each session features a different painting and there is currently a special offer to get three tickets for the price of two. 

Would I go again? Most definitely. I might not quite have located my inner Monet but I really enjoyed the experience and came away with a piece of art that my family was impressed with and that I wouldn't feel embarrassed about displaying. I just need to find the perfect spot for my masterpiece...

For more information about The Paint Republic visit the website or Facebook page.

I enjoyed a free session but all opinions are my own. 


Monday, 13 February 2017

A Weekend in The Cotswolds

About this time of year I start craving a bit of a change of scenery. But with finances still slightly dented after Christmas, plus the unreliability of the weather, it always feels a bit daft to splash out on an expensive weekend away in February. I don't want to travel for hours to arrive somewhere and find a solid two days or rain or snow is forecast - I'd rather hedge my bets by keeping travel time to a minimum and choosing somewhere with a (relatively) benign climate.

Step forward the Costwolds. Just over an hour from Bristol, the villages around Cirencester offer a no-stress option if you're looking for a countryside getaway with the chance to visit some quaint towns, smart gastropubs and interesting shops during your stay. 

For our weekend's exploration of this pretty corner of the country, we based ourselves in Bibury, an idyllic village not far from the region's capital, Cirencester. Bibury has charm by the bucket-load; despite attracting vast numbers of tourists throughout the year, it retains a quiet, sleepy vibe and you can take refuge from the crowds in the surrounding countryside.

With its typical Cotswold stone buildings - including the picturesque, much photographed Arlington Row - and rustic bridges, Bibury is as quintessentially English as villages come; there are pretty pubs, tea shops and even a trout farm to complete the bucolic scene.

If you like things to be lively, Bibury may disappoint, however there's more bustle just up the road in Cirencester, where you'll find a good selection of high street shops, cafes and restaurants in a pleasant setting. But if you really are after a bit of a digital detox and the chance to roam the great outdoors, Bibury makes a great base, offering some idyllic rolling countryside to explore.

We enjoyed a lovely ramble through tranquil fields and woods, taking in the village of Coln St Aldwyns and a welcome pit stop at the very tasteful New Inn pub. When I say 'pub', this place perhaps typifies the fashionable demographic of this corner of the country - think an expensive looking, Range Rover driving clientele, Farrow and Ball decor and Bloody Marys at £8 a pop...the Cotswolds most definitely have an affluent feel about them.

Away from the celebrity associations (Kate Moss, David Cameron and Lily Allen are just some of the famous names with homes in the area) there are more 'ordinary' attractions to enjoy - traditional country pubs, quirky tea shops and charming churches aren't difficult to stumble on, plus there are several places to try your hand at watersports in the area.

It was a bit cold for us to sample that side of the area on this visit, but come in the summer and you can take to the water at the Costwold Water Park or at South Cerney Outdoor Education Centre. We kept our feet on dry land instead, visiting the nearby town of Burford on our second day, a lovely place for a stroll and a browse in the high street's selection of cute independent stores - it's the kind of place that has a shop specialising in handcrafted brushes and artisan cheeses.

Just outside the centre of Burford is one of the most exciting shops I've visited in a long while - the Burford Garden Company. Ostensibly a 'garden centre', this place ain't quite the same as your local B&Q. I'd describe it as a cross between somewhere like a Wyevale garden centre and Liberty - it's a vast space of several buildings selling not just gorgeous plants, flowers, garden furniture, pots and other accessories, but stunning homewares, clothing, toiletries and stationery as well.

To say you could spend the best part of a day here is no overstatement; there's also a toy department and cafe on site too. Given that Liberty is perhaps my favourite store ever, I could have parted with some serious cash here - like the aforementioned retail legend, it's a shop filled with a carefully curated collection of lovely things, from hippy-luxe Moroccan rugs to hand-made pottery, boutique brand perfumes and candles to vintage crockery. 

And of course, there are the flowers and plants too, which have all your outdoor requirements totally nailed. I absolutely loved the place.

We stayed in a lovely stone cottage in the heart of the village, 33 The Square, a suitably cosy and cute place to rest up after a day's exploring. It's everything you'd want from a country retreat with its real fire, low beams and beautiful aspect overlooking a picturesque square. 

With three double bedrooms, it comfortably accommodates six and feels pretty roomy for a cottage - it wouldn't be a hardship to while away an afternoon in front of the fire if the weather wasn't on your side. 

I loved the comfortable, simple decor of the cottage, with its traditional shutters, wooden staircase and cushion-filled window seats - anywhere that has a window seat is all good with me.

We'll definitely be back to this corner of the UK - on a sunny day (we enjoyed glorious sunshine on our trip) I can't think of many nicer places to unwind, have a screen detox and perhaps enjoy an expensive Bloody Mary... 

For more information and to book 33 The Square, visit the website here.*

*We enjoyed a complimentary stay at 33 The Square but all opinions are my own.
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