Norfolk artists open their studios to the public

The great visual arts jamboree that is Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios 2012, a county-wide gallery of more than 400 creative folk and a vast variety of venues, is well underway. IAN COLLINS says that a dazzling array of art and craft is now showing.

From garages to garrets and from spare rooms to stand-alone studios — artists' working spaces come in all shapes and sizes and they're now springing to life in the most unlikely places all over Norfolk.

Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios 2012 is the 18th annual get-together between the public and a creative army now covering every corner of the city and county, and the showing and the selling and the private views, talks, chats, trails, demonstrations, courses and workshops run until June 10.

This year more than 400 Norfolk artists and crafts makers will be welcoming us to their very individual workplaces.

They will be displaying their latest distinctive lines in the productive gamut from painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, construction, photography and prints to ceramics, textiles, glass, furniture and jewellery.

The featured venues range from a converted chicken shed in Happisburgh to a restored 1920s houseboat moored rather handily outside the King's Head pub in Hoveton.

The former poultry shed is the workshop of sculptor Mark Haywood, who makes good use of the North Norfolk coast both as a keen surfer and as a collector of discarded flotsam beach-combed from the tide-line - materials which he can transform into an art of salvage also inspired by the patterns of waves and clouds.

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Having exhibited from East Anglia to Australia, he is now showing his pieces alongside exuberant paintings by his late mother Sandra, one of the Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios founding artists. As usual with the hospitable Haywoods, the creative celebration will end with a party.

And the open houseboat is the home and studio of landscape artist — and, naturally, boating enthusiast — Thomas Coulby whose abstracted images draw on inspiration from the Norfolk coastline and the Broads.

Some artists have to work behind closed doors and with their faces turned to blank walls, while others are inspired by the great outdoors; or, at least, by a room with a great view.

High among the latter is Francesca Perkins. If you walk along a cliff-top stretch of the North Norfolk coastal path at Weybourne you will find her ex-coastguard's cottage now transformed into a perfect gallery. It's hung with her oil paintings based on old photographs between windows filled with a glorious backdrop of sea and sky.

Textile artist Jill Hill, part of a five-strong team of Open Studios representatives for North Norfolk, will be running workshops and hosting an exhibition at her gallery The Old Workshop at Corpusty featuring her own work, as well as paintings by Patience Foster, sculpture by Harry Baker and abstract artwork by John Midgley, who will be giving a demonstration unravelling a contemporary art clich�s.

'I think it is a great platform for artists to show work that might not ordinarily be seen by the public,' Jill said. 'And because it is so well-established, people look forward to it and will often make a point of visiting the county especially.'

Many counties now have these annual open studio jamborees, but Norfolk remains the largest and the liveliest - confirming an impression that East Anglia continues to attract and hold more and better artists than any other part of the country, art-crazed Cornwall not excepted.

Given the widely scattered nature of our communities, and even the subtle feel of our unimposing countryside, artists may be more individual and imaginative here. Our array tends not to be tied to any school or to the ghosts of any star artists from the past (which is certainly not the case in Cornwall).

But the richest concentration of creative folk - more than a third of the total tally of open-studio exhibitors - can be visited in North Norfolk, which is now one of the leading arts and crafts centres of England.

The fewest, rather surprisingly, are to be found in lovely South Norfolk - but still there is strength and depth in the district's 26-strong assembly.

And forget the old image of the artist and craftsman as being probably bearded, possibly pipe-smoking and almost certainly male. Now women form a clear open-studio majority.

Not a single member of the Norwich School of Artists of two centuries ago — not even masters Cotman and Crome — was able to survive on sales of their art alone, but an impressive number of our current creators now do so.

More supplement their incomes and spread their skills through teaching - and there is a wide range of classes in this year's package, from felt and fascinator making in Breckland and paper-making from plants in Norwich, to drawing for beginners in South Norfolk and screen-printing in West Norfolk and King's Lynn.

The arts and crafts of Norfolk are deeply rooted in our local landscapes, and this key point will be brought home over the next 16 days with 10 local art trails across the county.

From Dersingham and Ingoldisthorpe near Hunstanton to East Norfolk and the Broads. And then there are three more in Norwich.

This year a record tally of 19 schools are taking part in this county-wide celebration of the visual arts, with exhibiting sites - from primary to secondary level - from King's Lynn to Great Yarmouth and North Walsham to Ellingham. There is also a show by Norfolk Adult Education at Wensum Lodge in Norwich.

Once again an excellent brochure is invaluable because while Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios 2012 runs until June 10, many featured artists are opening their doors for two or three weekends only.

? Norfolk and Norwich Open Studios 2012 continues until June 10, 01603 878285,

? The free 80-page directory with maps and open times is available at arts venues, participating studios and to download online.