Ditchling artist Jo Watters-Pawlowski adjusts to her new life as a full time painter

Jo Watters-Pawlowski

Hi Jo. You have taken part on the AOH festival for many years. Can you tell us about your venue, what is special about it and how you came to take part?
In 1996 my husband, the photographer Kris Pawlowski, and I bought number 37 High Street, Ditchling, a former bakery and shop. The building offered us a home, studio and later, a unique gallery space, so it was perfect for all our needs.   In April 2007 a group of artist friends and I decided to turn my front room, the dining room, into a gallery to hold our first AOH exhibition, which was such a success we continued our group shows for several years.  

In 2014 I held my first solo exhibition here and continue to do so.  The AOH festival is unique – I enjoy the interaction and feedback from the many visitors, and have gained a loyal following of customers who return each show to see my new work. Positioned in the heart of Ditchling, our venue has become the ideal gallery space to show artwork.

Painting of Ebb

Would you like to tell us a little about your background as an artist and designer?
I trained as a textile designer and fabric printer at West Sussex College of Art and Design; and later at Winchester School of Art. For many years I worked as a freelance designer and printer from my studio in Lindfield, before I moved it to Ditchling. 

I worked on large scale one off commissions, designing and hand printing short meters of fabric for interior designers, retail businesses, private customers and textile agents.  During the late 80s and early 90s I exhibited my work at interior design and makers’ shows in London and Europe.  I have always painted, as this medium helped to generate and consolidate ideas for my design work.  When these early paintings sold alongside my textiles, I chose to focus on being a painter.  

Flow- mixed media

What impact did the pandemic lockdowns have on your life and artistic practice?
Alongside my art, I have been working full time for 27 years as a qualified teacher and also in acute Mental Health. When the pandemic hit, I suddenly found myself working from home during the first lockdown for 10 weeks. I found it a conflicting and challenging time, and seemed unable to think about creating anything. Meanwhile on social media, particularly platforms such as Instagram, there seemed to be a lot of artists who who appeared to be flourishing, and working prolifically during the enforced isolation. 

Despite some great initiatives that were launched, including Matthew Burrows Artist Support Pledge, I could not get my head round it all – I felt an enormous pressure to create, but was emotionally drained and lost. I felt quite overwhelmed and even started to doubt myself as an artist.

Gradually, after a few months, I became more accepting of my life/work balance and started to go into my studio.  I became more confident to leave the confines of my home and walk off into the countryside around Ditchling. This ritual became an integral part of my day and my mind started to relax.  Revisiting pre-lockdown work/sketches and ideas prompted me to start to play, using mark making, different mediums. Slowly, the processes loosened me up and I also worked on oil paint paper which felt less precious and gave me a sense of freedom.  As a result, I created 10 oil on paper paintings that will be included in my Open House.  One of these paintings Chalkland was chosen for the AOH Towards the Light exhibition at The Regency Town House, 13 Brunswick Square, Hove, BN3 1EH.


What work will you be exhibiting in your Open House this year?
My Open House exhibition will show work created over the past two years, which has been inspired by water;  largely associating mood, reflection, light, texture and movement in and around water. I spent time quietly observing water and the constant changes it presents.   I have been inspired by the different facets of natural running water, especially local ponds, streams and the River Cuckmere estuary in the South Downs National Park. 

Sussex Pond

What other Open Houses are nearby and what makes the Ditchling trail so special?
There are lots of other venues nearby, while 10 & 11 are situated just out of the village in Streat.   The Ditchling artist community and Trail are special because they maintain a good reputation for hosting a great selection of contemporary artist, craftspeople and designer/makers who showcase a range of high quality work.   

Ditchling, itself, is a beautiful village to visit and explore during May Open House season; the bonus is to spend time meeting the artist and makers; Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft and the cafe and pubs offer delicious meals and refreshments.  What more would you want!

Waterline – oil on paper

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
It has taken several months to adjust to my new way of life following my decision in 2021 to retire from a career as an educator and advisor within acute Mental Health services.  Over the next year, my short-term goal, is to continue to develop my work, review my marketing strategies, build my network and gallery representation.  

As a contemporary abstract artist I am fortunate to sell my work and I feel proud to have paintings in homes across the UK, Europe and further afield.  Although my paintings are fundamentally abstract, they work well in either a traditional or a contemporary setting, and showing my work from my home gallery, offers customers an opportunity to see paintings in a domestic environment.   As an artist and designer my main goal is to leave a great impression and build my reputation.    

Visit Jo’s Open House:
No 37
37 High Street, Ditchling, BN6 8SY
On the Ditchling Trail