Creative Caversham – Nicolette Carter


Nicolette Carter talks to Elestr Lee about the TV challenge which put a spotlight on her artistic talents.

The past year has proved exceptionally busy for this month’s artist. Not only has Nicolette Carter been busy home-educating her daughter, Francesca, while providing online and classroom lessons to key stage one and reception children at Brimpton Primary near Thatcham but, last July, she found herself winner of an episode of BBC One’s Home Is Where The Art Is, and the publicity has resulted in many new commissions to fulfill.

“At first I thought it was a scam. I got an email, then a phone call – then another. I finished up being offered a Zoom interview – I had never done anything like it before!” recalls Nicolette of the show, in which three different artists put in a pitch to prospective buyers. “It wasn’t at all like the way we normally work, and there was the added time pressure. They wanted to emphasise the competitive element when, in fact, we all got on so well.”

Unable actually to meet the buyers before coming up with their proposals, the artists were initially only allowed to explore the building where the art would be displayed. Nicolette was fascinated to find her challenge was to come up with a design that would enhance Buittle Castle in Castle Douglas, home to members of the Balliol family.

“The castle was full of references to medieval art and history, orientalism and the orthodox tradition. I love medieval history – so the castle was right up my street!” she laughs. Her design, rich with religious symbolism, was chosen and now proudly hangs in Buittle Castle.

Originally from Send in Surrey, Nicolette first studied art at the West Surrey College of Art and Design. She has pursued a variety of mediums, including sculpture, textiles and animation, but she now mainly paints in acrylics. “I trained as an oil painter, but I didn’t like the fumes. Also you have to be so patient with oils, whereas acrylics dry in an instant. You can use acrylics in different ways, like water colours or layered to create textures. Environmentally, acrylics compare to oils quite favourably, although you still have to take care,” she says.

“My style has evolved over the years, but I am fascinated by the symbolism of medieval art, and the iconography of the Russian and Eastern Orthodox church. I love William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement!”

Nicolette lived in London for 20 years, and has always combined teaching with selling her paintings, through both Skylark Galleries in London’s South Bank and Tiny Gallery in Hart Street, Henley. She also takes part in the Caversham Arts Trail – although sadly, not this year; lockdown has meant such venues have often been closed. However, Nicolette has actually been busier than ever, due to the TV show in July 2020. “Even before the programme aired I started receiving emails, and the two other artists also got work from it. I think it makes artists accessible, gives the idea that you can contact an artist with a commission, and that you can ask for particular things to be incorporated.”

She is particularly interested in story-telling through her work and, unlike in the TV show, likes to show ‘work in progress’ to her clients, so the end result is very much a collaborative process. “I have so many paintings to do – I am only teaching part-time, two days week,” she says. Having lived in Caversham for 15 years she has found inspiration in the area. “When I’m not working on commissions, I am inspired by things which happen in my own life, or by the surrounding area – Clayfield Copse, the fields surrounding the road to Henley, swans and ducks on the Thames,” she adds.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have such an absorbing interest, and that I have been kept extremely busy this past year,” she says. “So many things these days are part of the ‘throwaway culture’, whereas creating something physical provides so much more. And becoming absorbed in music, arts or crafts can offer great relief for those affected by mental health issues.”

So, one year on, what is Nicolette’s verdict on her moment of TV stardom? “It was an amazing experience!”