BACK IN THE Spring Caversham welcomed the return of its Arts Trail – which introduced 20 new artists and makers to our community. Jill McEvoy was among the newcomers, and was delighted to show off her remarkable range of work which includes portraits, depictions of pets, farm animals and flowers, as well as both seascapes and landscapes.
Like many artists, Jill found painting a great solace during lockdown. Although, in fact, retired teacher and keen golfer Jill had turned to art just before the pandemic, in response to a debilitating health diagnosis. “In 2018 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which made me very depressed. My doctor suggested I should learn something new. I’ve always enjoyed dabbling in various kinds of art, and I had painted in oils. So I decided that I’d like to try water colours.
“My daughter Wendy, who lives in Shiplake, recommended Liz Chaderton, who was doing a water colour course in Shiplake village hall. I managed eight lessons before the start of lockdown – luckily, that taught me all I needed to know to get going. And throughout lockdown, painting in water colours kept me sane!”
In fact, Jill’s work draws on a range of media, which results in the vibrant, eye-catching quality to her work: as well as water colours, she incorporates pastels, chalk, and water colour pencil, as well as gouache and ink. “I am inspired by the photographs on which I base my work. I go to bed thinking about what I want to paint, and when I wake up, it’s there, ready for me to do!” Jill enthuses. Born in Canada, she has been a Caversham resident since 2003, when she and her husband, who served with the British Air Force, retired. Being a Forces’ wife, Jill faced many moves throughout married life, though her interest in various art and crafts was always present.
“When I was pregnant with my two children, Mark and Wendy, it became something I could do in the evenings. I enjoyed pottery – I liked to make porcelain clay flowers. I sewed, knitted, did crochet. And creativity runs in the family: my daughter Wendy is now a jeweller – she is both a silversmith and goldsmith. And both my grandson and granddaughter have done A level art – and both love to paint,” she says. In fact, readers may have spotted her talented daughter Wendy Penrose’s exquisite jewellery which used to be showcased at the Blue Duck gallery in Hemdean Road.
Jill spent many years as a teacher, enjoying working with children aged 10-11 most of all. “Teaching is so creative, and so rewarding,” she comments. However, she isn’t sure if she wants to return to teaching again but has been delighted by the response to her work. Jill feels – as do many of the artists interviewed – that chances to show her work in the area are too few. “Caversham lacks a space for artists and makers, maybe it would be better if the Arts Trail took place two or three times a year – then people would really get used to seeing our work, and knowing it’s out there,” Jill suggests. Her first foray into the Trail produced several commissions, which thrilled her.
A recent trip to Canada gave Jill the opportunity to paint portraits of various friends’ and family members’ dogs as presents. She sent the photo of one of her dog portraits to someone via email in error – but when she realised her mistake and apologised, the recipient said she’d loved it so much she commissioned Jill to paint a friend’s dog. “I explained to her my fee, but she was okay with it. And when I sent her the painting, she was delighted!”
Jill, now 75, is determined to carry on painting despite the infirmities her MS diagnosis has brought. “At least painting is not weight-bearing, it is easy to do, and my hands are okay. I also have problems with my eyes, such as cataracts – but after all, Monet continued to paint, even with cataracts!” Jill comments, adding, “I won’t be deterred.”
Her most recent work includes a handsome portrait of a Highland cow, and she was about to embark on some paintings of deer. “Painting has really taken over my life,” confesses Jill. “Not a day goes by when I don’t do something to do with painting. It’s a problem-solving thing – I like to work at my paintings, but when they are finished, it is wonderful that they create such pleasure.”
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