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Mary Sumner An Artist painting with nature itself

July 20, 2020

Good morning to one and all as I’ve noticed a huge rise in the numbers of songbirds and butterfiles over the last two weeks, I thought a summery themed artist would be just the ticket and who better than Mary Sumner to bring this to pass. Enjoy.

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Mary Sumner, is an artist who’s work, I feel, is truly inspirational to myself for so many reasons. It’s not only rich and expressive, it has beautiful colours and tones. It plays with design and textural elements, has a unique style with strong soaring brush strokes and mark makings and is somehow, all carefully wrapped up in mother nature’s wondrous world too. What an amazing collection to behold ! Here is Mary hard at work in her studio. I make no apologies for the length of this post. I wanted you to see most of Mary’s paintings as I have.

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I was literally quite stunned by Mary’s beautiful artworks and so pleased to also notice that her productivity levels were such, that there was an abundance of great work to digest and relish. I got in touch with Mary straight away to ask her some questions about her work and was proud to discover that Mary is already a Fishink follower !

I thought before I warm you up, (visually that is), that we’d begin with some lino-cuts and then take a wander into some rosy, but still chilly wintery landscapes.

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There’s a wonderful collection of images involving nature and animals in close harmony. Birds and grasses, foxes, dogs and sheep… yes plenty of those.

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These bird paintings made me think that they’d make a great ‘Learn To Count Book’ for children.

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Mary has a great eye for scale and perspective as well as colour and shape.

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I did promise you sheep !

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With colours hotting up, we can take a trip to the allotments to see what is happening. Beautiful flowers and there’s a buzz of bees, birds and life tucked in there too.

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There’s time for a quick splash in the sea and run on the beach too. Those newts remind me of plastic fishing nets on bamboo poles, and of catching tiddlers as children in school summer holidays lol.

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Some mad march hares, dancing and prancing about.

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Mary very kindly sent some personal images, one from her sketchbook and another or her in mid flow.

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Some of her latest work show how insects are creeping into the imagery and a combination of sheep and birds or insects and flowers.

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You obviously have a deep love for the countryside, are there elements of it that you enjoy working with more than others ?

I really enjoy painting farms & outbuildings/villages within the landscape & the animals (wild & domesticated) which inhabit it. The countryside forms a link to the past through its buildings, hedges & layout through land use.

As with many artists do you feel compelled to paint certain animals because they appear to be ‘trendy’ in the art-world or are the subjects you paint, on your canvass purely because they appeal to yourself alone ? Do you get requests for ‘more sheep’ from galleries etc ?

I like to record the animals I have encountered on my walks & travels for instance ” Barge Horses” came from a walk by the local canal earlier in the year.

I come from ‘sheep country’,- there were always sheep in the field at the bottom of my parents garden (and lots of rabbits) so they have always figured in my work. Galleries normally leave the subject-matter up to me.

How long have you been painting now and did your choice of subject develop over the years ?

I have painted all my life. I enjoy recording what I see around me, – anything that strikes a chord in a pictorial or a humorous sense.

I see that you’ve recently discovered lino-cuts, do you feel that this will become another side to your work/ style or is your true love that of painting ?

I really enjoy lino-printing after doing an introductory course at the Double Elephant Print workshop in Exeter, I like the graphic line it produces & the surprise element of the printing process (also the low-tech approach to lino). The two subjects compliment & contrast one another- but painting is my first love.

Can you describe how you start painting a new canvass. Do you work from photographs, sketches, do you paint out in the open countryside or construct the layout from your imagination?

I start with an idea from a sketch book, then start working straight onto the canvas with paint and then develop it from there. I use my imagination as well as what I see in front of me – but I may use photos/drawings from the spot/ notes from observations & ‘found objects’ as well.

How do you create such beautiful brush strokes and paint effects (dry brushes, working back into the canvass) ? Do you work mostly with acrylics or oils ? How long would a typical painting take ?

I always use acrylics because they dry quickly! (although I have been sketching using watercolours this year). I am seduced by the process of painting – it is like learning a new language daily, I usually have several paintings on the go at the same time, but they develop in different ways.

Are there areas and subjects that you still wish to explore but perhaps don’t presently fit into the style you show in galleries ? Where would you like your work to go next, any ambitions for a book /artist cards etc ?

I am interested in many things & processes, I like to explore different ideas but it needs time…. Next Year I am doing an exhibition at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen with a fellow artist Jenny Southam (ceramics) at the Riverside Gallery, Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Bovey Tracey. 21st March- 11th May 2014.

I have quite a few card images published at this time and at some point would like to do some book illustration.

There’s a great vibrancy and ‘love of life’ in your work, would you say that you’re at your most happiest when painting ? How do you manage to ensure that ‘feeling of summer’ or buzz of nature is captured in your paintings ? Would you say it’s through colour, keen observation, a little humour ?

I try to convey how I feel about my subject matter through colours/ forms & rythms in my work & sometime humour, I most enjoy the gathering of information for the paintings i.e.walking through a chosen landscape then reliving the experience in a painting in the studio. There is always something visually that strikes me everyday, however small, that I want to record & share because it will (hopefully) lift the spirits.

It certainly does for me Mary ! I couldn’t resist playing about with these wonderful shapes , putting a few textile designs ideas together from her work, just for fun : )

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Thanks so much Mary for your help and patience in answering all my questions for this post and for making me smile so much when looking through your ‘sunshine-filled’ paintings.

Very sadly, since reposting this original post from 2015, I’ve discovered that Mary passed away in 2016. Such a beautifully talented artist, with a way of capturing sunnier times in her work. She shall be greatly missed.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Pamela permalink
    July 20, 2020 12:47 pm

    Thanks so much for showing Mary’s work again. I didn’t know it until you first drew attention to it some years ago on Fishink. Like many people, I fell in love with it and now own two of Mary’s paintings. How sad that she died shockingly young, in 2016. And how lucky we are that she left behind all this wonderful inspirational work for us to continue to enjoy.

    • July 20, 2020 2:45 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts Pamela, how lovely to own a couple of her artworks too. Glad you enjoyed seeing them again, as did I.

  2. Little Jems permalink
    July 20, 2020 6:19 pm

    Hi, Can you tell me where you can buy Mary’s work? Is she only available in galleries? Thank you! Leisa Leisa Davies P. 250.869.1363 Studio


    • July 27, 2020 7:57 am

      Sorry Leisa I don’t know personally, you can try emailing the galleries who have some stock of her work to find out from them. Sadly I just discovered that Mary passed away in 2016 so it might be difficult to buy her work any longer.

  3. Cindi permalink
    July 27, 2020 10:30 am

    I like her work, but I really like the textile ideas–lovely!

  4. psvallejos permalink
    October 2, 2020 2:44 pm


  5. Matthew Beesley permalink
    April 19, 2023 3:54 am

    I studied with Mary at Northampton Art College over two years mid 1970s. As I also came from a Northamptonshire village we always engaged in conversation about the spirit and mystery of creatures and plants in their domain. Good to have known her during formative years, as the nucleus for her life’s work, which is permanent.

    • April 19, 2023 12:01 pm

      Lovely memories Matthew, thanks for sharing them

      • Matthew Beesley permalink
        April 19, 2023 2:02 pm

        Fittingly, Mary was awarded travelling scholarship one year, followed by myself the next year

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