Once upon a time in another life I spent my days immersed in art, craft, drawing, printing and any general craftiness going. I'm a maker at heart so anything that I can get hands on immersed in works for me, and that's probably why I became a baker. Whilst that's a story for another day, It's not often I get the opportunity these days to put paintbrush to paper and throw myself head first and guilt free into creating some serious artwork. 

That was until a few week ago when I spent the day at The Refectory Table with Helen Rhodes

I've been hanging out at the refectory table quite a bit of late, combined with the sudden freedom that comes from working freelance i've been on the lookout for creative workshops and opened myself to the opportunity to catch up with some amazing creative people, and it's been fantastic. 

The refectory table, created and led by Janet Currie, is an all round inspiring place to be. Janet is a specialist in the arts sector who collates and collaborates with likeminded creatives, artists and makers to deliver creative artist led workshops, creative business courses and a whole host of other inspiring events.

The refectory table is quite different from other creative business workshops, its personal, intimate, relaxed and engaging. Rather than being business, business, business, theirs is a more thoughtful approach, and the focus is very much on creativity. There is passion and experience in their guidance and teachings that delivers a further level of authenticity, which I feel is quite rare and quite special. 

Janet's home is a warm and inspiring place. From the refectory table & the garden to Janet's amazing hospitality,  beautiful food and delicious cakes, most honourable mention to the divine chocolate cake!

Helen is an award winning artist who moved to Leicestershire to study Textiles at Loughborough College of Art and Design. Helen has a distinctive style, intricately combining naive compositions and visual narratives with layered textures, rich colours and detail. Local talent with an international reputation, Helen has translated her work into greetings cards, ceramics and textiles too. 

It was here that we were to learn just a few of Helen's secrets... 

Plants and Pattern

To set the scene, we arrive to a table laden with paintbrushes, paint, paper, pencils, 

There are four of us, all from different counties, yet bizarrely two of the attendees were at school together, and two of us are bakers, which makes for a most formidable group.

Helen talked us through her process, by first drawing inspiration from nature and the outdoors Helen takes simple everyday patterns and imagery and builds them into extraordinary works of art. 

Helen has a wonderfully gentle style of teaching, offering support and advice when needed whilst encouraging us to unleash our creativity and go with the flow. Through layering paint, paper treatment and building a colour palette, the beginnings of some rather exciting work starts to take shape around the table. We spent some time sketching in Janet's inspiring garden which is filled with colour and texture, you can almost feel the earth quiver and shake as the garden wakes to reveal new life in the throws of spring. 

At around lunchtime, through paper scrunching and ripping, mono printing and intricate work with paintbrushes, works of art are starting to come to life around the Refectory Table. We down tools for delicious refreshments of crushed carrot with harissa, pistachio and pitta bread, beetroot salad with sunflower seeds and green beens with tahini dressing and walnuts. All rounded off with an orange & lime ice cream, rhubarb compote and melt in the mouth all butter shortbread baked by Helen.

At around mid afternoon Helen produces something quite special and gives us a sneak peek into one of her sketchbooks, the most delightful illustrations leap from the page, intricate pattern and mark making abound.

The excitement continues as the Gold paint is unleashed and we begin to put final touches to our paintings, whilst sampling a few slices of Janet's amazing chocolate cake.

At the end of the day, when we reluctantly put down our paintbrushes and bid farewell to the refectory table that has been most accommodating, none of us really want the workshop to end. To ease the pain of having to tear ourselves away, Janet sends each of us home with a goodie bag filled to the brim with treats and delights. Postcards and a pocket mirror designed by Helen, liquorice pipes & Homemade Rhubarb compote. We also have our prints and lovely memories of a day spent with good company, good food and creativity.

Helen's workshops are exclusively available via the Refectory Table, there are two more workshops this year, as follows:

  • Saturday 9th July - Plants and Pattern - This is the course I attended, exploring plants and pattern inspired by local gardens and learning the secrets to Helen's techniques. 
  •  24th September - Flowers and Vessels - focusing on decorative still life using a favourite vessel filled with flowers from Janet's garden. 
  • 12th November - A Winter's Tale - a workshop to create a wintery scene with decorative boarders, complete with warm cosy wintery food and drink.

You can book your place here.

In the week preceding Helen's workshop I attended a coaching course led by Janet's partner Pete Mosely Author and Creative Business Coach. Pete's course was based upon his book 'The Art of Shouting Quietly' I cannot recommend Pete's book and his course highly enough! 

Janet will be opening her garden on the 11th and 12th June for the NGS open gardens and secret craft fair. The event brings art and gardens together and will feature a whole host of artists, modern crafts, tea, cake and creative delights. You can read about all the exciting things Janet has in store for the event and a full lineup of who will be attending over on Janet's Blog, The Secateur.

We'll see you there!