Kate Corbett-Winder on finding her passion for painting through gardening...
The celebrated British artist (and Willow's mother) on her love of gardening, painting & her wildly creative family
They say creativity runs in families and so too, a love of gardening. Kate Corbett-Winder is a celebrated British landscape and still-life artist who favours nature as her subject, and also happens to be Willow's mother.
"I usually paint in my studio where all my materials and art books live. It’s a favourite space and I feel at home once I’m in there - though in the summer I do decamp to the greenhouse with an easel to paint the geraniums." says Kate, and on the merging of her two great loves of gardening and painting, she says "they became properly entwined around 2016 when I married the two passions and did a series of garden paintings which were the focus of my third London show. Before then I had treated the art and garden as separate - but as I’m endlessly rearranging the borders, experimenting with colour and shape - I recognised that it was a similar process to working out a painting."
Leaving Vogue House in Mayfair - where she worked as a writer and stylist in her 20s, for the Welsh marshes as a newlywed, Kate embarked on a journey where nature provided the backdrop for artistic exploration. While quite a transition for the budding city editor to the vast rural grounds of her new husband's family estate, Kate continued to work as a freelance editor. In fact - while raising three young children, Kate not only maintained her writing but grew her career - regularly contributing to glossy lifestyle magazines and becoming an author of several fashion and interior tomes.
At the same time, Kate's passion for gardening was developing at a rapid rate - at first, through wonderful stories of trial and error in the cottage garden where her young family first lived, then to the expansive grounds of the estate, which she came to love, nurture and manage through the seasons until today. Inspired by the surrounding flora and landscape, Kate began to paint the beauty around her - initially using watercolours, pastels and a sketchbook at home and on her travels to the Scilly Isles and further afield. In the last decade, Kate’s love of painting and gardens has collided - her passions have become her profession, with her work being welcomed by galleries, curators and collectors alike.
'Colour Field', Kate's upcoming exhibition (opening 23rd February) and her second with Long & Ryle in London reveals a bolder more abstract direction using collage, oil bar and graphite drawing over the painted surface; inspired by artists such as de Stael, Keith Vaughan and Patrick Heron.
Here we chat with Kate about her love of gardens and painting; her exhibition launching this month; and we learn about the passion she shares, and has passed on to Willow, for nature as the canvas for artistic expression...
'Greenhouse' is part of the collection from 'Colour Field' showing at Long & Ryle.
You wrote several books, many associated with Vogue - More Dash Than Cash, Even More Dash Than Cash, Laura Ashley Living Rooms, The Barn Book et al - please can you tell us more about your years as an author, editor and contributor to House & Garden, The World of Interiors and many more?
Writing as a freelance was a perfect way to transition from London to the middle of Wales. When I left Vogue I had a commission to write the first More Dash Than Cash book, it felt quite surreal writing that looking over fields of sheep - and I also contributed to Country Matters pages which gave me a lovely reason to explore and find creative people and original shops to write about. In the early 80s, there was a burgeoning of artisan crafts and small businesses that made me realise London wasn’t the epicentre of life! And the Laura Ashley HQ were down the road, so I started writing some of their catalogues and then a book for them called Laura Ashley Living Rooms. I also wrote the Barn Book and became a freelance writer with articles on interiors and gardens for House & Garden, The World of Interiors, Country Living and Architectural Digest.
Are you still writing and could there be a book in the future?
No, I can’t see another book on the horizon, but never say never. Meanwhile, I love helping Willow with her books.
Your love of gardens and gardening seems inherent. Has it been ever present from when you were young?
I had a peripatetic childhood, so my love of gardening began soon after I married and moved to mid-Wales. I was helped by a green-fingered gardener friend who helped me lay out and plant two large borders in a virgin lawn - roses were chomped by straying sheep and pesky rabbits, tulips were decapitated by the wind but I became rapidly hooked and have been passionate about plants and gardening ever since.
The gardens at your home in Wales are vast and impressive - what is your focus on managing the gardens there through the seasons?
It is a much more sheltered established garden, so I was happy to have had some experience in a cottage garden before taking it on. It’s a quintessential country house terraced garden with protective walls, a box-edged parterre and large herbaceous borders that I have replanted several times (once after Willow and Charles's wedding when the marquee sat over the crushed down flowers - it seemed a good plan in February was felt quite a rash one by September!) I try and keep the borders going from Spring until the dahlias are struck by frost.
We have experimented with a prairie-style lawn the last two summers, letting wildflowers emerge in long grass beside the formal herbaceous borders. Quite liberating not to have the mower powering away all summer.
There's a lull in the winter when physically there isn’t so much maintenance but the bare months do show up the bones of the garden and how there needs to be shape and scent to close to the house; clipped topiary, winter honeysuckles, snowdrops and tulips emerging from pots and dolly tubs. Once plants start to emerge I am thrilled to get in the borders to tweak and move plants around before they grow too much.
'August' oil on board and 'Jubilee' from 'Colour Field', Kate's upcoming exhibition at Long & Ryle.
I grew up loving wildflowers and wanted to encourage Willow to recognise the different ones growing in the hedgerows which I think she does. I don’t remember any mutinies when we looked for early primroses and bluebells. And she does apologise now that dahlias were outlawed at her September wedding, insisting on cream roses instead.
When did you start to paint? And when did you realise this could become both a passion and a profession?
I have always painted, but while I was writing it was something I did on holidays. - usually watercolour and pastel in sketchbooks - and for many years every Wednesday I would drive miles to paint with a group of friends taught by Fiona MacAlpine. We had the happiest time and I would come home, inspired to go on painting. I also went on courses, rediscovering my amazing teacher from school, Robin Child who encouraged me to think that I could be a serious painter. And I started selling my paintings on Tresco in the gallery - some of the early ones are still hanging in the holiday cottage which I can just about recognise!
Your love of gardening and painting appear to be entwined and inform one another. Can you tell us more about this?
Yes, they became properly entwined around 2016 when I married the two passions and did a series of garden paintings which were the focus of my third London show. Before then I had treated the art and garden as separate - but as I’m endlessly rearranging the borders, experimenting with colour and shape - I recognised that it was a similar process to working out a painting.
Your favourite place to paint?
I usually paint in my studio where all my materials and art books live. It’s a favourite space and I feel at home once I’m in there - though in the summer I do decamp to the greenhouse with an easel to paint the geraniums - one of the largest pictures in the colour Field exhibition, Greenhouse, was painted in there, though I could hardly see around the canvas! On holiday I always take paints and a sketchbook and sometimes those scribbles become paintings, but often they are just a visual diary of a time and place abroad.
Willow with Kate on her wedding day; Kate with son Tom and granddaughter Domino in the gardens at home in Wales.
You’re a mother of three children (and grandmother to 8) and your creativity appears to have transcended the generations…
Yes I know, it’s extraordinary. I encourage all the grandchildren to draw on giant sheets of paper on the kitchen table and floor, urging the older ones not to copy anything from an iPad! - a Christmas highlight was taking five-year-old Lyon into my studio where he dashed off a series of expressionist paintings with complete conviction - no wonder Picasso collected children’s art! It is a pretty creative hub when everyone is here. Willow constantly amazes me with her extraordinary talents. I watch her at work awed by how she conjures beauty with flowers and her ability to multitask on so many projects, as well as being mother to Wolf, Rafferty and Kit. Ned is an artistic entrepreneur who has created an online gifting business, notanotherbill.com. He is married to Sarah, a wonderful fashion stylist and they have three children Lyon, Nancy and Celeste. Tom has a project management company, Blockhouse Build based in north west London so with his wife, Matilda Goad, they make a formidable interiors duo with two little children Domino and August.
You’ve spoken before about your wonderful Willow and how you inspire each other. Can you tell us more about your special mother/daughter relationship?
I feel so blessed to have a daughter that I am so close to. We communicate as much as her time and phone signals let us, usually on her school run. We just have the best time hanging out, walking, gardening, rhapsodising about the quality of lichen or pussywillow we find on our walks… And she is a good judge of my paintings, a stern critic of my wardrobe and I definitely seek her opinion of any new clothes I might buy! One raised eyebrow will tell me I’ve gone off-piste!
Willow has always credited you as being the reason behind her love of flowers - how does that feel? What are some of your memories in the garden with a young Willow?
Well, my early memories were being begged to put down my secateurs and stop gardening - but I do remember her collecting rose petals to make potions of scent which I obviously wore. I grew up loving wildflowers and wanted to encourage Willow to recognise the different ones growing in the hedgerows which I think she does. I don’t remember any mutinies when we looked for early primroses and bluebells. And she does apologise now that dahlias were outlawed at her September wedding, insisting on cream roses instead.
I believe one of Willow’s very first flower jobs was with you. How did that come about and were you a formidable team?
Her friend Hattie Rickards was getting married and we offered to do her wedding flowers as a present. Neither of us really had a clue though I had learnt the basics from a florist friend - but it was June and we knew Hattie loved peonies. I arrived at the church in Gloucestershire with a carful of peonies and sweet peas and greenery from the garden and off we went, making do with church vases on wobbly pedestals and a disapproving church warden who didn’t enjoy our sweet peas in jam jars. But Hattie was thrilled, Willow was hooked on floristry and the rest is history!
Gardening and painting are both quite solitary pursuits - how do you keep connected and focused on your well-being while pursuing these interests?
Happily, I’m fine about being on my own (which is just as well when you live in mid-Wales) - and I prefer to paint by myself. Thanks to Zoom, I do various online art courses which is a wonderful way to hang out with fellow artists without leaving my own studio. Gardening alone is also essential - unless Willow is helping me deadheading and chatting, which is one of the best summer pursuits. But I do love people and cook and entertain, so am not really a hermit at all!
Aside from gardens and painting (and family), what are your other loves and interests?
Reading contemporary novels, classical and contemporary music, learning Italian so I can communicate better when we go slow cycling in Italy - I listen in the car talking to my Michel Thomas CD like a lunatic.
What’s next for Kate Corbett-Winder?
Probably more painting and more gardening!
Kate is rarely without her sketchbook and paints.
I encourage all the grandchildren to draw on giant sheets of paper on the kitchen table and floor, urging the older ones not to copy anything from an iPad! - a Christmas highlight was taking five-year-old Lyon into my studio where he dashed off a series of expressionist paintings with complete conviction - no wonder Picasso collected children’s art!
Works from Kate's upcoming exhibition, 'Colour Field' at Long & Ryle.
Please tell us about your upcoming exhibition, 'Colour Field’, with Long & Ryle …is there a shift from previous work in terms of style and materials used?
The subject matters are familiar; landscape, flowers, nature - but I think these are more abstract than before, built up with thinner washes of colour and more drawing into the image. There are several families which I hope will relate once they hang in the gallery - abstract aerial works inspired by flying to the Scilly isles last winter with some Montgomeryshire landscapes on wooden boards and a collection of still life with flowers, plants and the garden here painted last summer and autumn.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite painters and artists?
I love the early and mid-20th century in British art - especially Christopher Wood, Ben & Winifred Nicholson, Keith Vaughan, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron - and am inspired by the American abstract artists Richard Diebenkorn and Joan Mitchell who had an influence on my garden paintings.
If you could buy one painting in the world, what would it be?
It would have to be a Matisse. The Open Window at Collioure would make me very happy.
Lets Play Favourites - Kate Corbett-Winder
Flower – Rose
Artist – Matisse
Interior Designer – Jane Rainey
Scent / Fragrance – Ffern winter
Travel destination – India
Place in the UK – Berriew
Book – I’m reading Shrines of gaiety, Kate Atkinson
Podcast – The Modern House
Wellness ritual – Cold shower, pilates
Colour – Red
Make-up must-have – Beauty Balm, Trish McEvoy
Fashion label – Samantha Sung
Music – Van Morrison, Bach
Muse – Joan Mitchell (the painter, not the singer!)
Season – Summer
Restaurant or Meal – Fresh figs from the garden
Era or decade – 80s (without the shoulder pads)
Guaranteed laugh – Flowers on Netflix and Giles Coren in The Times
Time of day – coffee o'clock
Day of the week – Saturday
Quote – 'There are always flowers for those who want to see them‘, Matisse
'Colour Field' opens at Long & Ryle in London on 23 February and runs until 5 April. For more of Kate's work visit www.katecorbettwinder.com and follow @katecorbettwinderart