Tag Archives | Caroline Fox Betts


We’d left Paris in a fine rain – a mist enhancing the ‘Awful Tower’. Standing veiled, it was as if she wished to hide her emotions or the direction of her gaze. Vinegar dressed my mood knowing this would be the last time we would travel these waters in this boat.Awful Tower

How long could it be prolonged, this going home? I remembered the beginning of labour with my first beautiful baby when my instinct was, ‘I’ll stay pregnant – I’m not ready – I’m afraid’. The analogy is hardly appropriate, but a similar feeling – a quirk in my nature – a difficulty in letting go.

After we moored on the Île des Impressionnistes in the Seine at Chatou, the husband and I had ‘words’, (husband, aka fellow traveler – begrudgingly-named captain, the chalk to my cheese, or vice-versa).

‘We’ve no time’, he said about our long-planned swan-song of a voyage: the Seine Aval towards LeHavre. ‘I’ve had enough’, he added. And I, who had been enjoying (unusually when on the move) the vin rouge midday and continued with small top-ups all afternoon, let out my disappointment and defiance uncontrolled, until I saw the place where my words fell. Then I was silent, and escaped into a book – a very good book, it turns out.* But there was a long night of tangled duvets and too-hot pillows and some imagined discomforting noises.banjflag

Following the next tedium of a day, (in which I drowned in said book) we arrived at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a place we knew well, a commune in the Île-de-France region. Exhausted by the concentration and bad visibility, the husband/captain took himself to bed as soon as the boat was tied, and at 3pm, with no more reading left in my eyes, I joined him in the sanctuary of  the shared sleep-space. But he rose to cast out fishing rods.

Less than an hour later, when I emerged blearily on deck, he suggested we find a better mooring, one less rocked by the passing barges, adding that his fishing hooks had constantly snagged the worst and unmentionable kind of human detritus. These people – living permanently, mile after mile on moored great barges, converted, or just retired, inhabited as they had been when working, their holds void and eerily  reminiscent of old cargoes – why were they polluting their own waters so?

We untied and motored a little way downriver, but every place that looked like a possible mooring had a fault – a locked gate to the land, or too much weed, or too much flotsam/jetsam-litter, or evidence of a rough sleeper in an abandoned dayboat.

I don’t know who said it, but one of us uttered, ‘Let’s just go home’ – yes, ‘let’s just go home and put the kettle on’. And a relief buoyed me then and I began to think about all the paintings I would make and all the colour of our six months and every other six months onboard Foxy Lady in France that I would transfer to canvas and make sing and hopefully fill the hearts of all who might come to see, and connect to them the love I have for this water, this gypsy wandering – the lives I glimpse of  the boaters, water-skiers, swimmers, divers, fishermen, vagrants, fashionistas, bank-side cyclists, roller-skaters, the dog-walkers, the markets, the reflections on water, for every wild flower, tree, reed, waterlily, or beetle, butterfly, bat, heron and kingfisher. There’s been the architecture, inhabited and abandoned, war-scars and re-birth. New fears and old traditions. There have been fellow-travellers of many nations, and many a full and empty wineglass, surprising cheese or cured meat, many a kind word and helpful hand. There have been mooring places where only an owl hoots, or mooring places where people sang and danced all night.DSC03069

But with the thought of that kettle at home, dusty, as it must be, I knew it was alright – I was bringing it all back with me. And that’s when I dropped my shoulders, and relaxed my jaw, and submitted to the knowledge that there are endings, but endings are not necessarily sad, tragic or so final – and here come the clichés about every attempt to speak about endings that are not endings… (cut)

We are coming/going home.


Tournesol (sunflower)

Is this adoration? At first light they lift their heads and face the East. The sun rises, and so their petals splay and quiver like a ring of flames. 90e530b978ce9c208d8d721b5526ed69_largeEach flower tracks that object as it arcs across the sky – a field of fiery discs fixated and entranced. By evening, they face the West, and every day watch the thing they worship die. Their gathered mass bow in dark bereavement – until first light when something draws their faces to the East.



Soon the rhythm of row, row, row the boat, becomes automatic. I am relaxed. It’s after dinner and I have wine in my veins. I concentrate on the way the blade of each oar cuts into the surface. I want to make as little impact  – slice cleanly then draw against that chill thickness that provides my propulsion. I watch the regular whirlpools left in my trail. When the oars are lifted, they leave a line of droplets that make a continuous Celtic braid.1508053_10203130077426647_367531192136069301_n

The proximity of water. The sound of water disturbed – air plunged into water – a sound akin to music.

The mirror I float on is black – the kind of black made by clarity. Clean, dark depths. Water. On water. Supported by water. Transported by water.DSC00497

At the margins, ferns like great green feathers dip. At the green, green margins, reed warblers sing. At the margins, the water I have moved peaks and falls over clay and mussel-shells. The blue of sky, white of cloud and green of trees swirl into a kaleidoscope of circles and snakes, and figures of eight.

In my mind – nothing – nothing more than this. Water. The proximity of water.




DSC00358Early July. I was walking this evening along a riverbank – the Saône to be exact. To my other side was a field of recently cut long grass giving up its scent and sap in the late heat. All the germinating, sprouting, budding and fanning out of green is done. Our three months since March, floating boatwise on waterways, keeps us close to growth and change. DSC00360Now I begin to see the fruiting, and I think about human life and its growing, flowering and fruiting. At my age I relate to ripening, and sit here to write this, and know I am fortunate not to be in a high-rise office where the air-conditioning is failing, straining my eyes on a computer screen. I am not breathing the pollution of this era’s transport – in short, I am close to nature. And being close to nature brings on the metaphors.

I think about my life and wonder when exactly my growing changed to flowering, when my flowering became fruiting (I guess as a mother that one’s easy) and when began my ripening. DSC00356There are so many uses for fruit – sustenance to other life, or to fall and add nutrients to the earth – even if it withers on the branch, some essence is given to the atmosphere and recycled. And yet we are so scared of death.

Really I believe many of the problems in human society began when it moved away from nature, when it began to believe itself superior. Of course it is not. The weather teaches us that. How many lives are lost simply to weather, or mosquito bites?  Our superiority is a delusion, and to try and manipulate and control nature will always fail. Husband it – nurture it – sure. But roots push up under tarmac, vines engulf buildings, seas rise and fall over great cities.

Control. That is the root and main fault of the human race. It tries to control. When it returns to germinating, growing, flowering and fruiting, just being, only then, will there be peace.DSC00362


Kimono 1


Oil pastels on canvas board.  From a life drawing session. 2015


Dover pigeons


Pastels on black paper. 2015. I caught this scene with my camera in Dover, UK, near where I live. I plan to make an oil painting.


Vogue cover


Pastels on paper. Bored one evening, I searched for vintage Vogue covers. Original photo by David Roemer of Crystal Renn


Reclining nude


Pastels on tinted paper. 2015. Drawn from life in 40 minutes. Model, Louise Hughes, at The Secret Drawing Club, Sandgate, Kent, UK




Pastels on black paper. 2015. A ten minute sketch from life


Questions and answers for Cowling & Wilcox

· How did you get started as an artist?

I earnestly ‘got started’ in 2015 with a resolve to explore full-time my abilities, and learn more about mediums and techniques.

Little me with painting

Me aged around five. It’s probable that my father made the painting for the set-up photo. The easel and palette would have been my mother’s.

It was definitely nature not nurture. My mother was an artist, but left us when I was four. As a small child, drawing was my favourite pastime, but at the age of seven, a new stepmother confiscated all my materials and I was regularly punished for attaining A+ in art at school. I think to her mind, being ‘artistic’ was synonymous with the archetypal eccentric, non-conformist – qualities that should be stamped out. I ran away from home at the age of fifteen, but didn’t escape the ‘mustn’t paint police’. They had become internalised.

My creativity was channelled positively for many years however, through my own successful business as a specialist antique restorer, using diverse skills involving sculpting, air-brushing, and needlecrafts. Later, I studied literature at university and began to explore my creativity through the written word.

· What inspires you to be creative?

I’m inspired by light, contrast, colour, drama – something quirky or in surprising juxtaposition. I’m a people-watcher. I stop and look closely at tree bark or the wings of an insect. Creative is my core. I’m often pointing at things, drawing others’ attention to details that they would otherwise pass without notice – for instance a broken guitar floating in a pond, or a pair of beer cans hanging in a tree. I walk a great deal (with my dog) and carry my camera everywhere. I recently joined a life-drawing group. It meets weekly, and the poses and subjects, often from art history, are inspirational. For instance, the theme one week was Egon Schiele, so in the preceding days I studied his work, noticing how defined the muscles and tendons were, how contorted the fingers; so that session I gave more attention to the same.

· How would you describe your creative process?

Day-dreaming – being compelled to create in an explorative way, or to ‘capture’. More day-dreaming. A random spark of something seems to fall then ignites until my mind is burning with an idea. But sometimes an experimental thought will come: ‘why don’t I try such-and-such?’ or ‘what would happen if I did so-and-so? Having expressed myself through the written word for many years, I probably approach making a painting in a similar way to writing a poem, but am now resolved to explore ways to communicate through visual media. I have escaped the ‘mustn’t paint police’!

· What is your favourite medium to work in and why?

Oils – I like the way I can ‘push’ them around the surface, the way they remain pliable, sculptural, allowing me to play (although sometimes I feel impatient for them to harden). Also, if I make a muddy mess, I can scrape them off. They forgive and let me start again. I usually have two or three paintings on the go at a time, this gives me something to get on with while I wait for drying/hardening. I like the smell of oils and their texture is sensual. For sketches, I like to work with pastels on black paper – it gives a neon effect and keeps my marks minimal. Sometimes I live on a boat, so having a wet canvas in that confined space would be impractical. Then I use acrylics on canvas board or watercolour paper.

· How do you tackle a blank canvas?

It depends on the subject and my mood. Sometimes, I will plan carefully, draw, layout and underpaint main areas and shapes with a thinned medium. I leave it to dry, then return to build up detailed layers from dark to light, fat over thin. But another time, there will be no careful planning, just attack with a very basic sketch made with brush and unthinned paint. With a glass of wine in my other hand, singing to the music, I’ll use the palette-knife to work in one session, intensely, with marks coming more from my shoulder than wrist.

· What do you find the most challenging about the creative process?

I’m most challenged by self-belief. Sometimes I feel exhilarated by what I create, believing in my capability to paint and improve – another time I am filled with doubt, wondering if I have the ability to see anything I create objectively. Sometimes I’m full of confidence, sometimes fragile, and this can create a hiatus when I can’t paint at all for days.

· In which ways do you differentiate your work from that of other artists?

I’m self-taught – I do what I please, but sometimes I wish I had been to art school to learn the ‘trade secrets’. I think currently I’m on a steep growth and development climb, having inhibited the urge to paint for so long. A lot of my work this year shows technical ability, in my opinion, but I’m working towards more freedom and expression. My work is individual just as my voice or signature is individual – I enjoy looking carefully at the work of others, and find inspiration there constantly, but never to imitate, just assimilate and allow it to brew in my sub-conscious.

· What are your essential tools?

The right frame of mind is essential – ignoring other tasks and concentrating only on the project. I have a vintage wooden palette that I found at a boot-fair years ago. Aesthetically pleasing surroundings are essential. I keep my brushes in vintage pottery vases and jugs. I’m a little sentimental about my tools. I have a large wooden easel that I bought years ago, with good intent. But after one portrait, it stood folded in the spare room, unused for years. I have a natural fibre Chinese brush that I use to blend or smooth. I prefer synthetic brushes to coarse fibre for portraiture. If I’m given money for a gift, I go straight to the suppliers, which makes me feel like a child in a sweet shop. I want everything there! When I use the tools I’ve bought, I always think of the person who gifted me the money. I’m increasingly using the palette-knife for applying paint generously, also for sgraffito. I need music, because in silence I get distracted by ‘noises off’. Classic music is best, and it makes me smile, how, when a piece of music is faster or more dramatic, I paint faster, with more drama.

· How would you describe your studio/workspace?


My beloved writing space. I should clear out the furniture to make a committed studio space, but am too attached to the Gothic revival desk, bookcase and swivel chair.

My studio/workspace is my old writing study and is too small. I get frustrated sometimes, but on the other hand it forces me to tidy and not get too chaotic. ‘Organised chaos’ describes my surroundings well.

Over the past few years, in an historic public building, I painted numerous large murals for charity events like Halloween and Christmas. But now I paint for myself. The contrast between those huge spaces and surfaces to my little study is great. I dream of a large studio.

· Any tips for preparing a portfolio?

I did prepare a portfolio about 20 years ago, placing into it a variety of work – a large charcoal still life, an oil portrait, and my sketch books. I also put in a brochure of drawings I had made for christening robe designs. I think a portfolio needs to show proof of commitment. I was admitted into Canterbury University for their undergraduate course on the strength of the portfolio, but a divorce changed my circumstances so radically, I was unable to take up the offer.

· Do you have a favourite art tip that you can share with our readers?

When painting from my photography, if I am struggling with lines, I sometimes turn the canvas and picture from which I am working sideways or upside down. This stops me from making assumptions about the form and forces me to see shapes. I also take the canvas from the easel and hold it to a mirror. This can reveal an imbalance.

· Where can our readers find out more about you?

My website is http://www.carolinefox.com/category/paintings/

I also have a facebook page