Fiona's Notebook

BP National Portrait Gallery

7th July 2017

Meet Lemn Sissay - one of the most exciting young poets today. This is my latest portrait of him and this week it has gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery in the BP Portraits Awards Exhibition. I painted him for the BBC Radio 4 series on me, A Portrait Of... You can listen again to that on the BBC website.

The National Portrait Gallery is just on the corner of Trafalgar Square, opposite St Martins in the Fields in London. Entrance is free. The portrait is there until the end of the summer, when it goes on tour (including Exeter and Edinburgh).

Life's hectic for me at the moment. Doing three more portraits like Lemn's for the BBC - the actor Juliet Stevenson, the Royal Ballet’s male principal Ed Watson and Glyndebourne's lyric soprano Dannielle de Niese. There's also a whole lot more coming including teaching in Italy.

A Day with Pier Productions

23rd June 2017

A whole day’s filming for Pier Productions and a Channel 4 version of what I have been doing for BBC Radio 4. Painting and in conversation with a big name (the poet laureate Andrew Motion, the wonderful actress Juliet Stevenson, the loveliest lyric soprano in the whole whole world Danielle de Niese and so on) and talking them through all the emotions of being who they are and I suppose, something of who I am. Great day at the studio: this setting that setting, this pose that pose and all the words ad lib from me. Then up comes the studio chuck-wagon for lunch by the pool. Maybe Channel 4 will like it. We did. A dream day. Not a cloud in the sky nor on our minds.

To see some of the pictures, click the Gallery section.

Danielle de Niese Portrait Reveal

13th June 2017

Fiona has started a portrait of Danielle de Niese, the Australian-American lyric soprano. The first sitting was at Glyndebourne, an opera house in East Sussex just an hour away from London. We can reveal that this the second portrait for her new BBC Radio 4 programme 'A Portrait of...'

Anthony Thwaite OBE Portrait Reveal

30th May 2017

I'm excited to reveal a new portrait of Anthony Thwaite OBE, an English poet and writer. In addition to 15 volumes of his own poetry, he has been a publisher and literary editor of magazines such as The Listener and the New Statesman, and is an executor of the estate of Philip Larkin. He has an honorary D.Litt from the University of Hull, and was made an OBE in 1990. His is also an international outlook; he has lectured at universities worldwide, including Japan and Libya (where he spent his military service), and he is the co-editor of The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse.

To see the portrait, click the Gallery section.

Ed Watson portrait

17th May 2017

Just had a first sitting with Ed Watson for his new portrait, he's a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London. Now off to the Royal Albert Hall to watch a dress rehearsal of The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. What a privilege!

Preview of the Spring Exhibition of the Folkestone Art Society

9th May 2017

Fiona is the President and Chair of the Folkestone Art Society. She will be attending the preview of the Spring Exhibition on Friday 12th May 2017, 6.30 p.m. at The Grand, The Leas, Folkestone. The guest speaker will be Damian Collins, the sitting MP for Folkestone and Hythe and the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons. Damian has also served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and more recently, as PPS to the Foreign Secretary.

Fiona's Previous Notes

Further news on Sir Andrew Motion's Portait

1st November 2016

As mentioned, the Sir Andrew Motion portrait goes on show in the Edinburgh National Gallery on 25 November. This is going to be a big event - "Scottish painter goes home" said one commentator. Maybe not so exclusive news but about right. After Edinburgh, the painting will now go south to the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in Leicester for 9 April 2017 to 11 June 2017. Then it's "home" to Radley College.

Sir Andrew Motion's final portait exhibition and Future Projects

28th October 2016

Sir Andrew Motion portrait goes into National Gallery in Edinburgh on 25th November. I shall be there on the day doing TV, Radio and newspaper interviews. Andrew and I have travelled a long way together with just one image. After Edinburgh the portrait returns "home" to Andrew's old school, Radley College near Oxford.

At the moment, I am working on unusual portraits - a vet, a world famous poet and a wonderful lady called Louise. Christopher says he is willing to auction the Sir Robin Knox-Johnston portrait (my portrait of the great seaman, not Knuckles himself) for the RNLI. Early bids welcome.

I could also be going back to Antigua to do another series of market scenes. I can’t wait. Before then, I'm looking forward to creating some illustrations in India and it looks like I may be painting a portrait of Sir James Mancham, the founding president and world statesman of the Seychelles.

National Portrait Gallery picks Fiona's painting

We thought you’d like to know that Fiona’s painting of Sir Andrew Motion has been selected for the exhibition of the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Award 2016. Out of 2,557 entries, from 80 countries worldwide, 53 artists have been chosen to exhibit.

And News Just In…

National Portrait Gallery show coincides with BBC Programme on Fiona.

BBC Radio 4 programme on Fiona’s portrait of the poet Imtiaz Dharker goes out on the 13th June 2016.

The exhibition will be at the National Portrait Gallery from 23 June to 4 September 2016. It then goes on tour to the Usher Gallery, Lincoln from 12 September to 13 November 2016; the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh from late November to late March 2017 and finally to the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester from 8/9 April 2017 to 11 June 2017.

We hope you will manage to go and look at the painting.


Painters have always been drawn to the exotic, the unusual, the play of light that makes Venice so attractive. It’s hard not to fall into cliches here.

You must not avoid the plastic tack, garish colours, ghoulish masks, syrupy drinks and heavy food, the gondolas and weepy, creepy madonnas. I think of Peter Blake’s obsessive collections and I want to take this junk back to my studio, not one but at least 20, preferably all the same but in different colours. Obsessive. Like painting, a series creates greater impact than a solitary image.

Despite how I think I will feel I am loving the gondolas, the vaporetti-cornettos, the water, the shimmering, splashing frothy water, even the smells. I am on a stage set and a part of it. I walk differently, I speak in a different tone, I feel animated. I know why George Clooney got married here, the perfect stage, the star of his very own production. My body sways and moves with the motion of the sea and I get lost in the narrow streets and countless bridges that take me round in circles.

It's been raining for three days now, what rain! I slop through, trying to stay dry. The water creeps above my ankles. No bag boots for me, where do you buy them anyway? I give up and decide to enter into the spirit of things and head for the fish market.

All undercover today, great swathes of green and red fabric billowing in the wind, hanging from great archways. It’s dark inside but hardly gloomy.

Gelati, pasta, pizza and fish. Prosecco, Applespritzer (the current cocktail in Venice), olives and fruit.

It’s noisy too.

Bags of mussels and muscly men, gutting their catch. Shrimps, turbot, cod, langoustine, crab, and thousands of teenyweeny snails crawling around.

Bodies silhouetted, dripping, vapour and noise rising in the gloom and spirits are high. Langoustine or crab? Sardines and but how many? Pecorino or Mozzarella? Fish, fruit, vegetables, cheese and breads. Mmm.

Friends reunited, babies kissed, lamentations, exhortations, whispers in the dark, arms, hands, heads all moving but with grace, part of the choreograph of the play.

I sit undercover in a little bar with a family sitting in front of me and I order an applespritzer. It arrives with an olive and I realize I am hungry. Here is Grandma, Papa, son and wife, a baby in a pram and a little girl of about 6. The baby boy plays eyes with me, already the expert. Mama goes to buy cherries. She returns with a large brown bag of the glorious, juicy fruit. Delicately held, each one, nibbled to avoid the stone. Eaten with grace and delight. Papa opens a bottle of Prosecco. Toasts are made and the baby will not be left out of the fun. His little sister pops the wine cork into his mouth, a perfect fit.

Daily Mail

The Daily Mail has followed me to Italy. Nearl a whole page by sassy journalist Kate Johnston in this morning’s paper bringing to life how I teach and who I teach in wonderful Cortona. Many of the students return every year from as far away as Seattle and New York. Biggest surprise, a complete stranger signed in not from NYC nor LA but from here in my Sussex Village! Lots of good people and comfortable to be around them. It’s good to be known as their painting guru. Nice friends.

Worth another read:

Nice piece Kate and thank you. But wasn’t it special to see you can draw after all? Come down to Sussex and keep at it!

Now it is recovery time for me. At last! Back from Italy, teaching since April; Florence, Venice, Cortona, Saragano. Thinking through what we will do in the October and next March’s workshop here at Bayford Studios.

But now it’s time for me to paint. Not only catch up on commissioned work but spend precious hours doing what I really need to do, which is paint for myself, by myself.

Nothing makes sense if I don’t make time in my year to do that.

As I work, ideas and inspirations flood my mind. Already I am planning the workshops. Painting inspires me to carry on and my students will gain the spin-offs from my struggles.

On another note;

Hamish Hastings, the trout hound is now 7 months old and eating his way through our lives. We lament the loss of chairs, coat stands, an assortment of shoes(preferably unmatched) and note I use plural here.

But what really drew breath in gulps was when I returned from London to find in his bed a lump of soggy cardboard and a spring, only just recognisable as my Venice sketchbook. His days may be numbered.

Watch this space!