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Translating the landscape: Jessamy Hawke on people and place

Jessamy Hawke is an illustrator and landscape artist based on the Isle of Purbeck whose quirky paintings have a distinctive style all of their own. She tells us about the people and places that influence her work.

Painting of Kimmeridge Bay by artist Jessamy Hawke. Clavell Tower can be seen on the cliff.
Kimmeridge Bay

How did you develop your distinctive style?

That’s a hard question to answer! I used to work solely in black and white, and it was during my MA in Illustration that I started working in colour, in relation to drawing and painting landscapes. Now, I love working primarily in watercolour and gouache to translate the landscape in front of me onto paper, through the use of colour, texture and pattern, as well as lines and mark-making.

A painting by Jessamy Hawke of a clump of trees on a hill near Middlebere, Dorset, with ploughed fields in the foreground
Trees near Middlebere

You come from a family of artists. How much has that influenced your choice of career?

My mother (Jenny Hawke) is a watercolour artist, and her father (the late Eddie Askew) was also a landscape painter. Having artists in my family has encouraged my career hugely, from always being surrounded by paintings to being in the studio from a young age. My grandfather would give me lessons in watercolour and oil pastels when I was small, and my mother kept me in constant supply of paper and pens, going to art galleries and out sketching on holiday.

I definitely feel a connection to my family through landscape. Looking through my grandfather’s sketchbooks and paintings, I see similarities in how he used line and composition: it sometimes feels like we are looking at the landscape in the same way, even though he’s no longer with us. And with my mum, we regularly go out painting and drawing together, as well as sharing exhibitions and studio space, giving feedback on each other’s work. So drawing and painting together is very much something which has been part of our family life.

A painting by Jessamy Hawke of the view across the ploughed fields to Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset

What is it about the Dorset landscape that makes it so appealing to paint? One thing I love about the Dorset landscape is that it is so varied; it’s a fascinating and beautiful stretch of land. The Isle of Purbeck gives you the chalky white landscape of Old Harry Rocks, with hidden coves like Chapman’s Pool and the iconic Lulworth Cove. Then there’s the history of quarrying and the way it’s shaped the land, with Dancing Ledge, Durlston, and Winspit quarries, and the fossils and romanticism of Hardy’s tower at Kimmeridge. Moving further west you reach the ochre-coloured cliffs of West Bay, Eype, and Lyme Regis. In between, there’s endless patchworks of fields, paths, and forests, and the centuries-old villages built in Purbeck stone. Dorset is endlessly interesting to paint: I love finding new views of landscapes I’ve not been to before, as well as seeking out different angles to paint familiar landscapes and well-trodden paths.

Do you work from photos, memory, or en plein air?

I work from a mixture. In the studio, it’s mostly based on a series of photographs taken from recent outings, either walking, cycling, or from viewpoints out on a drive. But my favourite thing to do is take a backpack full of watercolour pens and paper, and go out and draw. I love the way drawing on location makes you really look at a place, studying it bit by bit and documenting it on paper. There are such breathtaking places to sketch out in Dorset: one day you can be drawing the cliffs along the sea at Durlston, the next day in the green valleys in the Purbeck Hills, and then another out on the orange heathland at Arne. I find drawing on location gives me a sense of purpose within a landscape, capturing the atmosphere, weather, and colour of that day. Colour in particular is so much more vivid out on location than it looks on my iPad when I’m back in the studio, so from that perspective location drawing is also really valuable when reworking sketches into larger paintings in the studio.

A Jessamy Hawke painting of the Dorset landscape showing plough lines in the fields and trees at intervals
Dorset Panorama

What are your favourite places or subjects to paint?

I’m drawn to fields and valleys, with their boundaries of hedges and the different tones and colours from one field to the next, especially around harvest when the fields become a network of stripes, patterns, and curves. I love drawing the trees bared by winter weather, especially along the coast where they are shaped by the harsh sea-winds. The coastline is a great subject too - catching the way water moves and rebounds off the rocks, and the different layers and textures of the changing rock-face as you go further west through Dorset. 

About Jessamy Jessamy Hawke is a UK-based illustrator and landscape artist. She is the illustrator for two children's non-fiction books published by Dorling Kindersley: Explorers written by Nellie Huang and Inventors written by Robert Winston.

Jessamy is the founder of Griefscapes, an online space linking landscape and loss through illustration.


Instagram: @jessamydrewthat A selection of Jessamy's work is available to buy in The FOLDE Collection

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