Established in 1997, South East Open Studios – or SEOS as it’s more commonly referred to – has grown in size and popularity every year.
What started out as the West Kent Open Studios 25 years ago, with just a handful of artists participating, now boasts almost 300 artists taking part.
One of these include the Langton Green based, self-taught painter Keith Siddle, who has enjoyed a successful career as a painter despite no formal training – something he cites as an advantage. Here the talented artist tells us all about his work and what you can expect to see if you drop into see him in his garden studio over the next few weekends….
So Keith, for those not familiar with your artwork how would you sum it up?
My paintings are detailed and vibrant studies from nature, a snapshot where motion becomes still. They are colourful and contemporary, often with a little cheekiness to them but I ultimately hope my paintings make people smile.
Where do you draw your visual inspiration from?
Most of my paintings have been inspired by my experiences and things I’ve seen. For example, my ‘Tropical Marines’, ‘Turtles’ and other ‘Sealife’ paintings have been inspired by my scuba diving experiences. My ‘Koi’ paintings are from visiting the top Koi breeders in Japan in 1997 and showing my work at many Koi Shows all over the world. My ‘Food Art ‘paintings are inspired by believe it or not – eating!
Are fish still your favourite thing to paint?
Yes, I really enjoy studying their shapes and movement then adding them to a background which may contrast or complement the colours of the fish. At the design stage I can become obsessed with getting the drawing anatomically correct before individually drawing the scales. One of my recent paintings ‘Sweetlips – Orange’, a painting depicting seven Sweetlips tropical fish advancing over different shades of orange background, had over 20,000 scales drawn and painted.
You’re a self-taught artist – what do you think this adds to your work?
I had to learn and try different art techniques until I found my own style. I feel my work has a uniqueness to it, especially as I often like to try unusual combinations of colours, which I may have been put off trying at art college.
You also have two teaching jobs – when do you find the time to paint?
I am an Art Technician and Magazine Editor at Holmewood House School. I’m also a football coach at Langton Green FC and a dad – so, yes I lead quite a busy life! Time in my studio is precious and I love every second I get in there. I’m currently working on a number of commissioned paintings for private clients. These include a two-metre x 80cm detailed painting of 15 turtle hatchlings which took approximately four months to complete.
Why do you enjoy participating in this event?
South East Open Studios gives us the chance to actually meet the clients and explain the story of the painting. I love the enthusiasm visitors have shown when entering my studio and I hope all the other artists taking part get similar reactions. I have been doing Open Studios for about 13 years now and have met some amazing people. Some come back every year…
What can visitors expect to see?
I will have a large selection of my paintings, prints and my three children’s picture books to show. I am particularly proud of my latest sunflowers painting ‘From now on in it’s strictly Blue Sky’ which is a quote from the song ‘Ocean Blue’ by 80s music legends ABC. It is an acrylic painting on a 150cm x 100cm box canvas and I was inspired to start painting this during lockdown with the blue plane-less skies. It’s a celebration of the beauty of nature and optimism for a brighter future after lockdown.
I will also be showing the triptych of acrylic paintings on 150cm x 100cm box canvases called ‘Eagle Ray/Sardines/Green Turtle’. This triptych was inspired by some of my scuba diving experiences, with each painted sardine embellished with a pearlescent varnish. The turtle and ray have a gloss varnish and the background is finished with a satin varnish…all that was a real labour of love.
Do you get a lot of business from this type of event?
The beauty of events like South East Open Studios is that you never know what will happen or who you will meet. Sometimes you may not sell at the time, but then someone comes back to buy or commission a new painting after the event.
You’ve also penned three books – can you tell us a little bit about them?
I have written, illustrated and self-published three children’s picture books. They are ‘Pirate Jack – The One-eyed Cat’, ‘Little Angelica – A little fish on her BIG adventure’ and ‘Little Angelica – To Save our Sea’. Inspiration came when our children were little and I also wanted to try illustrating in a different, more cartoony style. I am currently working on four other books to add to my titles. I was thrilled to receive a handwritten letter from Sir David Attenborough complementing me about ‘Little Angelica – To Save Our Sea’ and I get lots of great feedback from parents about how much their children love the books as well as how the parents enjoy reading them too! If my words and illustrations inspires even one child to read more then I am really proud of what I have achieved.