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Cambridge Open Studios 2019: Artist Sue Spence gains new perspective after learning to fly




The patterns of fields spreading out beneath the wings of her plane have become an inspiration for one artist after she took up flying as a hobby in her sixties.

Sue Spence has always loved adrenalin-fuelled sports but had to give up her beloved motor racing six years ago because it was becoming physically too difficult.

Sue Spence an artist for Cambridge Open Studios who has learnt to fly and uses the views from the plane as inspiration for her paintings seen at home in Aldreth. Picture: Keith Heppell. (12335085)
Sue Spence an artist for Cambridge Open Studios who has learnt to fly and uses the views from the plane as inspiration for her paintings seen at home in Aldreth. Picture: Keith Heppell. (12335085)

So when an old friend offered to give her a flying lesson it seemed like the perfect opportunity to channel her thrill-seeking nature.

But she hadn’t anticipated the impact that the new perspective she gained would have on the rest of her life.

Sue says: “He said he would take me for a trial flight, and of course that was it. I was hooked. I couldn't wait to get up there and loved every minute of it."

Sue started her lessons in a Eurostar fixed wing microlight, but she has since sold her racing car to fund the purchase of her own plane - a Sky Ranger.

Artist Sue Spencer with her plane (12302757)
Artist Sue Spencer with her plane (12302757)

"During the lessons I just started to see this part of the world from the air," she says. "It is such a different perspective and because the land is so flat you can see for miles and miles.

“To see the fields in spring when the rape is coming into flower then to go into the summer when all the corn is ripening and they are starting to harvest, it just captured me.

“I was inspired to paint a tryptich, which has three pictures of the flooded fen washes - one for winter, one for spring and one for autumn. The perspective is obviously from the air.

After flying over the wash when i took some photographs I just thought I have to see if I can paint this and that is where it started. I’m itching to get more of these scene onto paper or canvas.

View from Sue Spence's plane (12302759)
View from Sue Spence's plane (12302759)

“When you look at The Wash and the sandbanks from the air they have such interesting patterns and, of course, no two are the same because it depends what the tide leaves when it goes out.

“All the time I’m flying I’m thinking of possible paintings so it has taken me away from my usual subjects which are sheep, chickens, cows, that sort of thing.

“Now I’m doing landscapes but with a slightly abstract, blocky feel. They are a bit linear - there’s not a lot of detail and it is about colour. It is something I’m just starting to explore.”

Sue is a former occupational therapist and took up painting in the late 1990s when she attended a watercolour class. She now also works in acrylics and will be taking part in Cambridge Open Studios next month where she will be exhibiting her work for two weekends at Wicken Village Hall.

Artist Sue Spencer with her plane (12302755)
Artist Sue Spencer with her plane (12302755)

Much of her inspiration comes from her love of her garden as well as hens, sheep, cats, nature, boats and historic or classic cars. She makes collages of eggs, hens, pigs and birds in the style of Victorian specimen cases. Her work has been sold at the Babylon Gallery in Ely

But now, she says, her current interest is painting views that she has seen from the plane.

“I'm just intrigued by what i see from the air and it is going to be a much stronger thread in what I am painting now. It will give me a different take on what im seeing.

Sue Spence an artist for Cambridge Open Studios who has learnt to fly and uses the views from the plane as inspiration for her paintings seen at home in Aldreth. Picture: Keith Heppell. (12335088)
Sue Spence an artist for Cambridge Open Studios who has learnt to fly and uses the views from the plane as inspiration for her paintings seen at home in Aldreth. Picture: Keith Heppell. (12335088)

“It is a new inspiration and it is one I want to start exploring more and more. I will be able to take my husband andrew up in the plane soon. I got my licence on May 3, so that was exciting but I have what's called a restricted licence which means i can fly locally but i have to do another three hours solo before I can take a passenger.”

Each year more than 350 Cambridge Open Studios members open their doors to the public over four weekends in July. Studios are open between 11am and 6pm with each artist taking part for one, two, three or all four weekends. Entry is free. Dates for 2019 will be: 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, and 27-28th July. Sue’s work will be on show on the first and second weekends in Wicken Village Hall, High Street, Wicken.

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