At the end of April, I caught a train from Paddington to Totnes in Devon, where I was heading to attend a gathering of female Instagrammers, brought together and hosted by the Devon-based contemporary artist, Yvonne Coomber.
Yvonne had planned a similar event last May (you can read my post about it here), and I’d had such a fun and inspiring time that I was delighted to be invited again this year. As before, we were hosted at the beautiful Pip Farm, where we spent three days enjoying interesting conversations, admiring the stunning surroundings, styling photographs and learning more about Yvonne’s creative process.
Collaboration and Community
Yvonne is an artist primarily inspired by the natural landscape, and in particular wildflowers, and her paintings reflect the joy, magic and zest for life that she finds in transmitting the glory of nature onto her canvas. Not only does Yvonne believe in the deep joy that beauty brings to the world, but she is also a generous supporter of other people’s creativity and appreciates the power of creative community and collaboration.
Having established a close network of fellow artists, makers and creatives in Totnes, Yvonne is also a supportive and engaging member of the online community through Instagram, and in bringing together some of her favourite flower-loving Instagrammers, she shows the joy to be had from cementing online interactions into real-world friendships.
Inspired by all the creative discussions and idea-swapping that had flowed so freely last year, this April we were treated to some official skill-sharing sessions led by some of the women on the retreat. Julia Smith (whom I interviewed last autumn on Tea & Tattle), led a workshop on Instagram and the importance of meaningful content and authentic engagement.
Bex Partridge taught us how to make a floral wreath using dried flowers, and Georgie Butcher and Dörte Januszewski of Curly Carrot gave a talk on maximising traffic from Pinterest to boost blog stats. It was so interesting to hear other people’s experiences of the online world and their tips and tricks for growth.
An Inspiring Environment
Much as I enjoyed the free-flowing conversations, however, I found our environment just as creatively inspiring. Although I love London, it is wonderfully soothing to the soul to be in the heart of the countryside for a few days, taking in deep breaths of fresh, clean air and appreciating moments of stillness.
Trees were in blossom all around Pip Farm, but the interior of the farmhouse was just as beautiful as the exterior, as it was filled with peonies, tulips and other spring flowers provided by Marta Matson Flowers, as well as new gorgeous paintings, prints, cushions and lampshades by Yvonne.
Indeed, we were lucky enough to be amongst the very first to view some of Yvonne’s latest paintings, and they were amongst my especial favourites. I absolutely loved the two shown below, which were influenced by Yvonne’s love for the Impressionists, particularly Monet.
The farmhouse was a perfect central hub for our activities. Every mealtime we gathered at the long wooden table in the kitchen to enjoy the fantastic vegetarian feasts cooked up by local private chef, Djamila Vogelsperger. During odd moments in the day, I enjoyed taking a stroll around the pretty gardens, as well as exploring more of the farmhouse.
Work and Play
Yvonne Coomber’s luminous wildflower paintings are inspired by the landscape that surrounds her studio, which is buried deep in the rolling hills of the Devonshire countryside. We drove out to her studio one sunny afternoon, and I was, yet again, impressed by its deeply peaceful atmosphere. The tranquil stillness was broken only by the gurgle of a nearby stream and the faint bleating of distant sheep.
Walking through the door of Yvonne’s studio is like stepping into a rainbow: an abundance of colour fills the small space, with its paint-splattered walls, shimmering canvases, sticky paint pots and vases bursting with blooms. I find it fascinating to examine the place in which an artist creates, and Yvonne has transformed her studio into a deeply personal workspace, with messages written on the walls that speak of the love and sense of wonder that inspire her.
We were also treated to a delicious tea at Yvonne’s home, a short walk from the centre of Totnes. Her lovely Mum had baked a mouth-watering assortment of cakes and cupcakes, and we all gathered in the living room, handing out teacups and balancing plates on our laps as we chatted.
In contrast to her studio workplace, Yvonne’s home is cosy and calm, with her cats lying asleep on chairs and family portraits hung on the walls. Her love for colour and sense of playfulness is ever present, however, as evidenced by the brightly coloured walls, cheerful flowers and striking artwork in every room.
Bluebells at Dartington Hall
As our time in Devon was slightly longer this year (three days instead of two), Yvonne and her husband Mike showed us a little more of their beloved countryside and took us all on a walk to explore the grounds of Dartington Hall, a beautiful estate and charity open to the public.
I was in heaven admiring the last of the delicate cherry blossoms and the swathes of bluebells and wild garlic growing freely along the paths. It was the first bluebells I’d seen this spring, so of course it was hard to stop taking photos!
I was also excited to see the first budding tendrils of wisteria blooming. We spent a good part of an afternoon exploring and taking photos, and if you’re ever in the area, then I definitely recommend a visit – especially in the springtime.
Farewell to Totnes
On my final day in Devon, I had some time to while away before my return train, so I spent the morning exploring Totnes. I’d remembered the town’s enticing book and antique shops from my visit last year and was keen to visit them again. I found a few gifts to bring back for friends in London and some vintage silver spoons (perfect for photography styling) for me, so was very pleased with my purchases!
I also popped by Yvonne’s Art Gallery again, which is at the top of the main road in Totnes, and admired more of her paintings and prints on display. I then picked up some provisions for the train journey home from my favourite cafe in the town, trundled my suitcase to the station (along with the gorgeous print Yvonne had generously enclosed in my – very large! – goodie bag) and waved goodbye to Totnes.