Away With The Fairies
Craftsman Magazine – June 2007
Trudi Finch has lived and worked in Wales since 1984, the last sixteen years at her house and studios near Aberporth in Wales. What better place to paint fairies (and unicorns to boot) than in a country where a dragon is the national emblem?
Trudi has the most inspirational collection of notebook ‘diaries’ that I have ever seen – all of them filled to the brim with words, sketches and paintings…. memories captured in both pictures and prose.
Explains Trudi: “Drawing has always been part of my life. When I was young we didn’t have paper – there were no sketchbooks or anything like that. In those days, joints of meat were wrapped in white paper and Mum would pin it on the walls in our kitchen for us to use! I think it’s so important if you want to learn to draw that you do so every day. Suddenly, you find that you can draw almost anything!”
It will come as no surprise, then, to learn that Trudi’s fairies – both dry-point engravings on handmade paper and paintings on to canvas – are initially born on the page. Says Trudi: “I start with pencil, pen, brush… even a Biro – whatever I have to hand. I particularly love to draw children. One fairy is based on a sketch of a little girl I drew running around on a visit to St.David’s Cathedral – others are dancers, relations and photographs of my daughter when she was little….she is 32 now! All these things I use as a reference”
Trudi is particularly inspired by trees and nature. The fairy wings are based on butterfly shapes. “We have a butterfly farm nearby and the chap there sometimes gives me his dead butterflies – it’s really fascinating to see the way the wings actually work.”
Another inspiration for Trudi are the illustrations by Arthur Rackham: “His faries are so magical. I had a big picture of Peter Pan in Kengsington Garden on my wall when I was young.”
Trudi’s dry point engravings are printed onto her own handmade paper. The detailed image is painstakingly engraved into a sheet of perspex with a sharp pointed metal tool – the engraved lines are then filled with etching ink, the surface then wiped clean and finally printed on damp paper in an etching press. Only a limited number of prints can be taken of the perspex plate before the surface breaks down.
Trudi starts with the face as, she says: ” I have very little control over the faces – they’re so tiny and it’s quite hard scratching with an engraving tool. I make a lot of mistakes and they all turn in to gremlins,” she laughs, “so I etch a little face and it’s no good – then I turn the plate over and do it again. Sometimes I go through maybe ten plates before I’m happy with it. One of my favourite fairies – the Fairy Godmother – has a little gremlin face in her skirt, which I have to paint over every time I print it because I forgot to turn the plate over!” Her paper is made with cotton lintus, but, she explains: “I also add any interesting paper that I’ve soaked down – bits of card or anything that I’ve got around the place. I also add seeds, onion skins, tea leaves… even glitter. When I printed onto flower petals, they fell off and a bit of the print came with it. I liked the flowery look of them, so I added another layer – a smaller frame of plain paper on top, which I then pressed together.”
Trudi paints the engravings with water-colours with a touch of acrylic paint added, usually gold – this helps to prevent the pigment from ‘bleeding’ on the paper. Says Trudi: “For years I used oils, water-colours, pastels. I would never use acrylics. Now I’m totally addicted to them, because I can use them like water-colours on an unprimed canvas. But I have to be careful with my brushes… I’ve just ruined one of mine!”
Although Trudi is mainly known for her paintings, prints and illustrations (she illustrated a children’s book by Jeanine McMullen), she originally trained in ceramics and was one of the first groups of students to graduate from the degree course at Farnham College of Art. It was here that Trudi was taught botany and flower painting as well as Japanese brushwork. Says Trudi: “I’ve painted flowers for years. There’s something of flowers in fairies as well – something in the wings, like the veins in the petal of a flower.”
Trudi eventually joined the staff at Winchcombe Pottery where she met and married Joe. Together they worked in Africa – establishing Kolonyama Pottery in Lesotho. On returning to the UK they worked again for two years, at Winchcombe Pottery before moving on to the West Highlands of Scotland to set up their own pottery at Appin.
In 1974, with the birth of their daughter Claire, there was little time for working on the wheel. Explains Trudi: “I started to do much more drawing and much less pottery – it really took over from then.” By 1980 she transferred her skills to painting water-colours. The demand for her original work encouraged her to start a range of cards and prints that grew rapidly to over a hundred designs that have been sold throughout the UK. Trudi has exhibited widely and was recently awarded the ‘People’s Award For The Most Popular Drawing’ at the Lines and Strata exhibition at Oriel Mwldan.
“The fairies are something that I can indulge in – I really enjoy being able to use rich colours and I can really let myself go with them. I definitely saw fairies when I was little – I think children see fairies, but as you get older you lose the ability. There’s a little girl who writes to me all the time. She came to see me for a Birthday treat and brought a huge sketchbook of the most wonderful fairies she had painted. She tells me she’s seen Willow fairies…. ..so who am I to question it?”