Glastonbury based artist Linda Ravenscroft is well known in the fantasy art world for her beautifully detailed watercolours, featuring characters from her rich imagination and the natural world. With her husband John she runs the Mystic Garden Gallery at the bottom of the High Street, where they sell not only Linda’s work, but also beautiful creations from some of the world’s most talented fantasy artists and craftspeople.
We met up in Linda and John’s garden on an unseasonably hot and sunny September day, over a huge mug of tea I ask Linda what inspired her to start drawing and painting. She explains that she used to get bullied at school, so would draw a magical place, where she felt safe. She attributes her love of fantasy to her Mum and Dad, who took the family out every weekend, to forests and Medieval houses and encouraged their imaginations. “They’d make it really good fun, we’d pretend it was our house, they’d get us looking for fairies up the chimney”.
In turn, Linda is passing on her wonderful imaginative gifts, as she says “If you build a child’s imagination it will come up with all sorts!” Her son Dorian has his own range of gothic art on sale in the gallery and she has already bought her grandson Julian a set of paints, he’s not even two years old. He’s the subject of one of her latest paintings ‘The Unfurling’, and is depicted curled deep within the earth, foliage and wings sprouting from his shoulders and his tiny hands touching the brown winter leaves, turning them into the fresh green shoots of Spring. The image perfectly and beautifully encapsulates the main themes of Linda’s work – fantasy, the natural world, transformation and family.
“It Just Felt Right in Glastonbury” Linda and John’s Journey
Linda and John met in 1983 when they were in their early twenties. They’ve been married for 32 years, John jokes “Even the great train robbers didn’t get that long”. They regard themselves as ‘proper working class’. Linda points out that they’re not from the ‘posh bit’ of Cheshire, they both worked in the same factory. John as a machinist, Linda as a receptionist, ”We did different shifts, waving at each other as we went past”. Their social life revolved around pubs and pool tables.
“People just see the end result, they don’t see the journey you’ve had to get there, it’s taken us 26 years to get where we are now”.
Linda tells me “John is the most uncreative person you could ever meet, except when it comes to DIY. We’re like chalk and cheese. I’m away with the fairies, he’s the business mind”.
Linda has been ‘doing art’ since Dorian was born 26 years ago. He was very ill as a baby and was often in hospital. Linda couldn’t do her receptionist job anymore but they still had to pay the mortgage, she needed to work from home but didn’t know what to do. John said “Well you can paint can’t you?” Linda started off with commissions, painting dogs, houses, portraits, villages. “They don’t do fantasy in Cheshire!. I always did fantasy art, but it was ‘mine’”
Eventually the couple realised there was a market for fantasy and started selling at craft fairs, then got a space in antique and Arts Centre in Cheshire. Success came when a publisher started to publish her art professionally on licensed products, like jigsaws, figurines and clothing. Although they didn’t earn a huge amount per item, Linda’s fantasy art began to sell worldwide.
Linda started coming down from their home in Cheshire to sell at Glastonbury’s Fairy Balls and through shops on the High Street like Lilith (now Wildwood) ten or eleven years ago. Her work, unsurprisingly, sold really well here and so it made good financial sense to move to the town. Nevertheless, when they secured the lease on their first shop eight years ago, it sent them into a bit of a panic, having committed to moving their entire lives 200 miles to Somerset. The uncertainty didn’t last long however “It just felt right in Glastonbury. I bet everyone says that don’t they?”
“We’ve invested our entire lives here, my mum and dad are here, my kids and grandkids all followed us here “. Both her parents liked to draw and paint, but sadly her Mum is now blind and her Dad, now 92 years of age has mobility problems. Nevertheless they love living in Glastonbury and like to visit the George and Pilgrim’s Inn next door.
Linda shows me round her workroom, every surface is covered with her art in various stages of completion. Her output is prolific, drawings and paintings become prints, cards, mugs, cushions, jigsaws, bags, lampshades and clothes. She works in three dimensions too, making figurines, needle felted mice and birds, wands from antlers, polymer faces appearing in shells. I get the sense that she has not so much manufactured these creatures, but rather that they have used her hands to mould paint and clay and thread into their forms, to reveal themselves to us.
She asks me not to take photos here as this is her private creation space, but I wonder if it’s in case motion blur betrays a felted mouse in a waistcoat and top hat scurrying about. Her creations are so animated it’s easy to imagine this enchanted place coming alive at dusk, fairies dancing on the tabletop and woodland creatures unrolling cotton reels to belay down the shelves.
I ask Linda is she knows how many pieces of art she’s made, she thinks for a while “Ooh no, hundreds? I’ve no idea! Ooh look, I’ve started making trollops (she shows me a troll like figurine in a string vest) his nipples show through!” Then she’s off, pointing out more of her creations at breakneck speed, I can’t keep up. I guess this is the speed at which she works too, though there is nothing slapdash about her art, each piece intricately detailed and finely wrought. It’s remarkable that Linda never had the luxury of attending art school, she is entirely self-taught.
We are talking about the many materials Linda uses in her art, when I mention that some people collect their dog’s hair over its lifetime in order to knit themselves a jumper when it’s gone, Linda looks troubled at the thought “That’s a bit morbid, I’m not quite that mad!”
Linda shows me another of her pieces in progress, ‘Ophelia’, like many of her artworks this piece was started in pencil, the detail added with graphite pen and finally coloured with watercolours. She reveals one of her favourite drawing materials – the humble Barclays pen! John used to pick up handfuls of these distinctive blue pens for Linda whenever he went to do the banking, when the Barclays in Glastonbury eventually closed down they offered her their entire leftover stock. She shows me a cushion featuring her illustration ‘Child of Trees’, drawn entirely in Barclays pen on a train journey to Bath. she does a lot of her drawing while travelling.
Life in Glastonbury – It’s Just Normal Isn’t It?
After four years of renting in the town they decided they needed their own own house and business premises. They weren’t expecting that both would end up being in the same building, but then they viewed the elegant three storey building at the bottom of the High Street. Built in 1812 it was formerly the NatWest Bank, the couple immediately saw its potential and were both surprised and delighted when their offer on the building was accepted. It’s taken a couple of years to renovate into a home, shop, workspace and ‘granny’ flat, but it’s been worth it. Linda says “The building feels much happier now, I don’t think it liked being a bank!”.
They feel very lucky to be custodians of the building and enjoy living in the centre of town “Except for the odd occasion when it is noisy with drummers!” They have a great view over the Market Cross and enjoy watching what goes on – the farmer walking his llama, a little old man doing Tai Chi, our resident Stormtrooper and the occasional dinosaur. “The funniest thing was watching a bloke in a frock climb the Christmas Tree”. As Linda says “I love it, it’s just normal isn’t it?”.
“We love living here and try and be ‘hands on, John would like to be more involved in the town, keeping it nice”. They take part in local events, particularly enjoying the Frost Fayre and now they are moving into a less manic phase Linda hopes to make more visits to Chalice Well to ‘take in the energies’. Linda laughs as she says “We like to use the local amenities, we’re always in the George and Pilgrims and Gigi’s”
Linda was a body painter for both of the previous two Glastonbury Body Art events in aid of Children’s World (you can read more about them in my article on the 2018 event). She found it great fun, but as an artist it was way out of her comfort zone, her expressive hands mime a human form as she explains “The canvas moves!” Like me she felt the event was really empowering, with models of all shapes, sizes and ages taking part.
Art and Nature
To Linda the fantasy and natural worlds are one and the same, with the creatures who inhabit her imagination and wildlife being inextricably connected. We chat about plant devas and Pan, she reveals “I’ve never actually seen a fairy, but I don’t need to, I’ve got them here” gesturing towards her heart. In Linda’s ‘Vanishing’ series of animal portraits she literally illustrates her distress at animals disappearing from our landscape. In ‘Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow’ the hare’s hind quarters are erased.
Linda demonstrates her environmental concerns in practical ways too, manufacturing her own products in house cuts out unnecessary transport and means they can keep an eye on their supply chains, buying UK made wherever possible. They use the British company Wentworth to produce beautiful wooden jigsaws of Linda’s art. They do their best to keep their footprint small, using local companies, recycling bubble wrap, their bags are paper and all the glitter they sell is biodegradable.
The Therapeutic Value of Art
When Linda’s son was poorly and the family were struggling – short of both money and energy, she started suffering from depression, she tells me that although their circumstances have got much better the depression never truly leaves.
She has painted her experience into pieces like ‘True Colours’ and believes that art has a large role to play in healing the emotions, When a customer is strongly drawn to one of her artworks and she tells them what inspired her to create it, she often finds it reflects their own feelings. “People pick the painting they need” she tells me. For this reason Linda won’t paint anything ‘dark’ as it negatively affects her mood, instead she aims through her painting to be uplifted, and to lift others in turn.
Some of her work is whimsical, like her Crazy Cats series of mischievous and amusing felines.
Teaching and What Comes Next?
Now most of the work on the house is done Linda is looking to paint more and start running small art classes “I love doing what I do, but I really like to help other people”.
She’s also working on another Draw and Paint instruction book and moving more into crafts, she’s appeared on the Create and Craft TV channel in the past and loves encouraging other people to make stuff. If you are interested in Linda’s forthcoming classes keep an eye out on her website and facebook page.
The couple are keen to support others develop their art and craft businesses, but as Linda says “People are romantics, but not realists. That’s why I’ve got a John, for when I go away with the fairies!” Linda clearly wants to support and encourage creative people, in both creating and marketing their art.
Supporting Artists and Craftspeople
Linda is as excited by the work of other artists they sell in the Mystic Garden Gallery as she is by her own, she refers to them as friends, not ‘suppliers’. As we walk around the large showroom she points out the sculptures by her friend Sandy, Terry’s retro lamps, Mark Stokle’s range of dragons, rock goblins and tree creepers, Terry English’s exquisite elfin armour, China’s mermaids, Kelly’s jewellery, practically everything in the shop is handmade. The shelves feature notices with photos and short bios of the artists, it’s important to Linda they are recognized for their work. “It’s not all about me!” she laughs. Linda is proud to have nurtured some of the newer artists whose work is on display here, supporting them with encouragement and practical advice on making money from their creativity.
We are interrupted by an excited Mexican lady who wants to give Linda a hug, she goes outside to fetch some friends, they come in for a hug too and saleswoman Pixie Mel comes out from behind the counter to join in, resplendent in her work wear of pixie ears and wings. There’s a great sense of this being a family business, particularly as Linda’s son in law Alex works in the shop too and helps with the design and manufacturing process.
I pop my head into the shop’s changing room, it’s the bank’s old vault, though the metal bars have been removed. There’s plenty of space in here, a large gilt mirror adorns the wall and in the centre there is a very large red leather armchair. It feels like we’re backstage in a theatre dressing room. I love that Linda has made her art wearable, her designs featuring on dresses and tops, she’s planning a range of T-shirts soon.
To find out more or order online visit Linda’s Website but I recommend you visit the shop in person if you possibly can. You’ll find the Mystic Garden Gallery at 5 Market Place, at the bottom of the High Street in Glastonbury, you’re certain to meet the cast of fantastic characters from Linda’s rich and fertile imagination and if you are lucky you might get to meet Linda too. Watch her facebook page for details of her forthcoming drawing and painting workshops.
All art is copyright Linda Ravenscroft. Photos of Linda and Aliss at the Body Art Event are Mark Pickthall’s. All other photos are copyright the author, Vicki Steward. This post was kindly sponsored by Linda Ravenscroft.
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