Creative Caversham – Nicola Duncan


Living close to the Thames has provided a regular theme for artist, Nicola Duncan.  She talks to Elestr Lee about her work which frequently features the beauty of Caversham’s swans.

WHILE SOME artists are perpetually seeking new sources of inspiration, others prefer to return to a favourite subject, allowing them endlessly to re-imagine and revisit the source of their inspiration. Nicola Duncan moved to Caversham 25 years ago, and has long lived close to the Thames. She remains fascinated by the reflection from the sky on to the river, and with the vast array of river birds – but especially the swans.

“I love painting the Caversham swans, they have real personality, as well as being visually striking. I’m also inspired by local landscapes, for example, the bluebell woods at Mapledurham,” she says. Nicola’s works are mostly Caversham-inspired, but she also loves to visit Devon, Cornwall and Pembrokeshire. “I love the light, I love the sea – and I love the ever-changing British weather!”

Originally from Nottinghamshire, she studied graphics and illustration at de Montfort University, Leicester, then completed her teacher training when she subsequently moved to Reading. “I’ve taught at Gillotts School, Henley, for many years,” she says. “I’m always pleased when students continue to develop art as a career.” However, art teaching has had its challenges during the pandemic with students having to photograph their work to show their teachers online. “While I have missed seeing people in person, in many ways, lockdown has made you reach out more online. I’ve taken the opportunity to put together a new website to make my own art more accessible.”

When not teaching art, Nicola works in her studio which nestles in the garden where she lives close to Caversham’s centre. Lockdown offered the chance to experiment with different media. “I’ve decided to focus on my watercolours recently. I’ve been inspired by one of my favourite artists, Paul Talbot-Greaves,” she says. Paul is based in Yorkshire – but during lockdown, he created an online watercolour course, and Nicola was delighted to find out more about his approach to capturing the landscape. “I’m excited to be working in watercolours again after a long period of working in oils. It’s a very different medium, with its own techniques and creative possibilities.”

Nicola loves being part of the local art community. “I have taken part in the Caversham Arts Trail many times,” she says. “As well as original paintings, I sell a lot of my cards and prints of my paintings – they make great presents!” Nicola’s work has also been exhibited at the Reading Contemporary Art Fair at Rivermead in previous years, in Windsor, as well as at the Wallingford Gallery.

Last Christmas, she was pleased to be asked by Lesley Banks of Whittington’s Tea Barge to paint her daughter and dog as a surprise gift. “I wanted to capture them in a natural moment on a beach – which was challenging, but great fun!” she recalls.

She is now looking forward to further commissions, as well as opportunities for herself and fellow artists to start showing their work again. In the meantime, she is busy building up a whole new body of work in watercolour, taking inspiration from the local landscape and, of course, the Thames.

A selection of Nicola’s work can be seen on her website: