Shaftesbury Fringe has unveiled the vibrant new look to its publicity material. Shaftesbury artist and Fringe performer, Anne-Louise Richards, told Alfred what inspired her makeover of the festival’s programme cover.
Anne-Louise Richards is an incredibly talented visual and performance artist, who excels in whatever art form she pursues. She is known for her singer-songwriting, performing as ‘The Little Folk Fox’. And she’s a versatile artist and designer who has been perfecting her talents since childhood. “My dad still has my very first drawing. It’s a whale. I drew it when I was two-and-a-half years old,” smiled Anne-Louise. “Since I could hold a pencil I’ve been drawing, illustrating or doodling and I don’t think I have looked back since.”
Anne-Louise grew up and was schooled in our town. She gives credit to ‘some of my good art teachers’ but adds that she also had ‘some rotten ones’. “I found the art GCSE so awful and I said I would never study it again and I haven’t,” she said, describing her school coursework as ‘tick-boxy’.
“By nature, I’m a little bit obstinate and headstrong and I clashed horns with my GCSE art teacher quite a lot, which meant we had to work backwards and make the art fit my style. It was complex. It wasn’t my thing. I have enjoyed exploring other areas of my skill in my own time rather than having to study it,” she added.
Although being aware of your style at an early age is arguably an artistic strength. “As you grow, your style develops. Mine certainly has since I was fifteen. When you draw a lot, your style comes out and, if you like it, you stick to it,” said Anne-Louise. “The one thing that is quite good about GCSE art is that I am good at imitating other styles. If somebody asks me to do an illustration in a certain style, that’s fine.”
We joked that Anne-Louise could make a fortune as an art forger, knocking out a couple of Rembrandt copies each day. “Out of respect for those artists, I don’t think I’d be able to do that. If I died and found out that somebody was doing that with my work, I’d be rolling in my grave so fast I’d be like a washing machine,” she laughed.
I asked her how she would divide up her different and diverse creative skills, both performance and visual, if she had to present them on a pie chart. “At the moment I’d say I am more prolific with the visual art – my paintings and illustrations. But I like to keep a fair balance. I tend to get bored quite quickly of one thing or another. I like to keep it fresh and keep ideas rolling in,” explained Anne-Louise.
“I can do things like the Shaftesbury Fringe imagery, but I can also do charcoal portraiture, still life, cartooning, watercolours and pencil drawings,” she said. One of Anne-Louise’s favourite styles is currently on-trend. “I’ve always liked botanicals that are done with a nice ink line and loose watercolours. I’ve always been very meticulous with my art, but I see the visual aspect of a looser style which I’m trying to achieve with watercolours and acrylics at the moment. Variety is my poison.”
That remark interested me. There are some Shaftesbury artists, such as Gary Cook, who have many creative skills but who have focused on a signature style and subject matter. Gary captures the essence of trees in paintings that are so realistic, they resemble photos. I asked Anne Louise whether she felt she should pick one of her methods and major on it.
“If I did that, then I’d hate it,” she laughed. “I have to have a variety to keep myself interested in what I do. I would get the itch to do something else and I think eventually, that would claw its way through and identity something different,” she said.
I asked Anne-Louise which artist she admires the most. If her partner, Peter, was to buy an original, whose work would she want to put on the wall? “If he could, I’d like him to get me an original Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t ask for much,” she laughed. “I’ve always adored his work. I love how he was such a trailblazer and how detailed he was with his anatomical and scientific illustrations. He was an amazing mind and having a piece of his work would be spectacular.”
It’s a wonder how Anne-Louise finds the time and energy for all of her creative activities. She writes and sings her songs at events like Shaftesbury Fringe. She performs at venues including Shaftesbury Arts Centre. She makes jewellery, she undertakes commercial commissions and has a full-time day job at a picture framing company on the Wincombe Estate. Free time is scarce.
“I do like having a wind-down every day. It doesn’t have to be very long but as long as I have a little, I’m absolutely fine. To have a lot of things in the air motivates me,” said Anne-Louise. But she rarely collapses in front of the telly. “I’m very bad, as my other half will tell you, sitting and watching something. I’m very twitchy and I have to be doing something or researching for my next idea. You have to talk me into watching a programme or film and tie me down a bit. It’s a method of relaxation I haven’t relaxed into yet.”
Anne-Louise hopes that one or more of her artistic skills will support her in the future. “Ultimately, the dream is to be able to live off my creativity. As all artists know, living as an artist is very difficult. It helps to have several strings to my bow to call upon. If things get rough in one part, I can try my hand at another,” she said.
If she moved to a bigger place, she might be noticed by more people. But Anne-Louise has chosen to stay in her hometown, where her friends are. “I did grow up here. I went to school with a lot of people and I was taught by quite a few people here as well. What I enjoy about Shaftesbury is a sense of community and you get to know the locals here. It’s good business because people like to keep business local. That goes for artists, designers and musicians,” she said.
The quality of her work is helping her get commissions outside of our town. “I have done some art for the Bristol Academy of Drama and a performance at a fringe in London. I’m edging out to other places. I’ll see how it goes,” she smiled.
Her commercial work has been diverse. Anne-Louise says she enjoys being given a precise brief. “Sometimes it’s really good when a client can tell you what they want,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not so great if they say, ‘I haven’t got a clue what I want but it’s sort of like this’. Then there will be a lot of ‘back-and-forthing’ with ideas. Other times they don’t mind and I get free rein. There is a lot of variation with whether a client’s strict with what they want or otherwise. I’m happy with either. As long as I’m happy with my work then the client is happy and I don’t mind.”
Many Shaftesbury residents will have walked past one of Anne-Louise’s commissions without realising. “The High Street Bakery and Café is a fabulous place and all of the white illustrations in the window are mine,” she said. “I also did the hand lettering on their boards inside. I do a little bit of calligraphy. I have been enjoying window art. I haven’t done any for a while, so if any Shaftesbury High Street owners are listening and fancy something pretty in the window, hit me up.”
Anne-Louise will soon have what will become her most widely viewed piece delivered across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. She’s been commissioned to design the cover of the 2020 Shaftesbury Fringe programme. The image features a colourful and vibrant display of books, instruments, microphones and theatrical masks projected onto the outline of the iconic sloping cottages of Gold Hill.
Anne-Louise says she was excited to get the call offering this job. “I was there at the Fringe’s very first summer. I have been performing at Fringe ever since. To be able to illustrate something that I am so connected with and I have a personal interest with, is a massive honour.”
She says she wanted to convey a vibrancy in the event image. “The brief was for the variety of performers and everything that goes on at the Fringe. For me to cram all of that into an image without it looking messy was difficult. They wanted the Gold Hill motif and I wanted lots of punchy colour, bold shapes and nothing looks sketched. I wanted to illustrate the life of the Fringe, which I think is building,” said Anne-Louise.
Some artists try to avoid Gold Hill images as they believe it’s overdone. Anne-Louise didn’t mind. “It is such an iconic image. It’s been used for the Fringe imagery since the beginning, so that’s fine. The challenge was to think of something fresh and I’m quite happy with what I’ve managed to turn out,” she said.
The Fringe committee is happy too. And fans of Anne-Louise’s music will be delighted to learn that she hopes to perform as The Little Folk Fox again during this year’s festival. No dates or venues are confirmed for her show yet.
Shaftesbury Fringe runs from 3rd to 5th July and you can find out more at ShaftesburyFringe.co.uk.