Feeringbury Farm

©James Brittain

The Blackwater Polytechnic began when Freddie Robins and I started converting a sixteenth century timber framed barn to live and work in. The barn is on the family blackcurrant farm in beautiful North Essex. There was a need to retrain ourselves and our team in order to be able to complete the project how we envisioned it, so the Polytechnic was born. The Polytechnic combines construction, farming, forestry, art, craft and collecting. These are the activities we have committed to by living in this place in this way. How we resolve the tensions between those disciplines and our lives is the material and project of the Polytechnic.

Latest News

Thank you for making Flat-out Lowlanders such a success

We had a brilliant weekend with many delightful visitors who I would like to thank for coming, buying our stuff, enjoying our café and looking hard and intelligently at our art. Thank you visitors. Heart heart. We love you the people.


Thank you Freddie Robins for your tremendous  hard work organising and cleaning up the Lambros Café. It does become a bit like the Augean Stables over the winter.


A huge thank you to all our artists for bringing your wonderful work, for your patience, forbearance and good humour.


Thank you Julie Arkell for bringing all you lovely objects and bringing Douglas Bevans who cooked and cleaned to keep us all going, so thank you to Douglas too. And thank you for the loaf of bread, just finished!



Thank you Annabel Dover and Alex Pearl for bringing all you enchanting objects, and helping with and advising on the ‘gallery’ show, and the yummy madeleines.



Thank you Simon Emery for bringing a wonderful sparkle to the show in your work, bringing the twinkle in your eye, some fine cars to brighten up the place and bringing Amanda Emery. I’d like to thank her for her delicious baking and helping out in the café.




Thank you Sara Impey for stitching all year to bring us your profound serious work and invigilating in the gallery.


A massive thank you to Justin Knopp not only for showing great work but for operating the letterpress creche, the ever popular attraction giving the gift of type. Tyler Emery is a complete convert and probably your next intern. Justin Knopp helped Freddie with her prints and introduced us to the Big Steam Print project which set Freddie off in the fruitful and poignant printmaking direction.


Thank you Freddie Robins for so much hard work in preparing and operating the Open Studio. I know how much it takes out of you but your hard work is very much appreciated by all of us, artists and visitors alike.


Thank you Caroline Wright for showing your intelligent beautiful work and spending time with us all at such a trying and scary time in your life.


In the nick of time we tacked on Dervorgilla Elmes’ beautiful eerie mirror so thank you to her for bringing that along and Florence for helping in the Café. Thank you Sonia Coode-Adams for being our biggest supporter, for the sausage rolls and helping out in the café. Thank you Henri and Imogen Guest for your baking and helping. Thank you Nicol Wilson for all you hard work behind the scenes in keeping the Blackwater Polytechnic going.





Annabel Dover: in praise of slippery

Annabel Dover has kindly agreed to take part in our Open Studio event – ‘Flat-out Lowlanders’ 1st+2nd October 11am-5pm Feering Bury Farm Barn, Coggeshall Road, Feering, Colchester, Essex, CO5 9RB. Do please come and see her delightful and intriguing paintings.

Annabel Dover is a painter and maker whose subject appears to be the surface of things. This impression is reinforced by the way she makes her images. They are slick, as in shiny, and slippery, as in the evidence of the paint sliding around on the ground is relished. She chooses subjects that are all about surface too, like gems and photographs. But the surface is just that. Beneath what you can see in her work is another world which will eventually, when taken as whole, be revealed to somehow fit into an enormous cohesive Proustian narrative. Looking at her work is like trying to catch bubbles, each piece is exquisitely beautiful, but constantly floating out of reach, defiant of logic but hinting at and obeying presently unknowable laws. Like catching bubbles her work even at its most sad and melancholic is pure joy.




Freddie Robins has been playing with fire…

Freddie Robins’ contribution to our Flat-out Lowlanders Open Studio is born from the boiler of a steam roller and yes it does involve bunnies. This coming weekend 1st & 2nd October 11am-5pm come and see what she has been up to. Freddie went from standing start to Usain Bolt in printmaking with the Big Steam Print project initiated by Ditching Museum of Arts and Crafts making a giant print in the process, squashing the love out of bunnies, monkeys, an elephant and assorted bears. But don’t worry that love is imprinted on paper that you can buy and take away. In going from 3D to 2D she is saving you space but the cuddles remain undiminished.





All the pretty things…

We are beginning to assemble all the pretty things ready for display this coming weekend 1st & 2nd October 11am-5pm. We have a good mix of shiny and matt. One of the shiniest, as ever, will be the work of Simon Emery who has been working on a wonderful Porsche 356 bonnet. If you own a vintage Porsche 356 you might want to buy this cracking bonnet and swap out the plain boring original for some much needed individuality and chutzpah. Or you might just want a bit of Simon’s magnificent sparkly work which comes with the most subtly curvaceous hood of all time for free.




Caroline Wright is showing with us at ‘Flat-out Lowlanders’ Open Studio and we are excited to see her new work.

Suffolk artist Caroline Wright works often with performance but she also makes the most beautiful drawings. Tapping into the long and muscular tradition of British women surrealist artists, such as Leonora Carrington, Eileen Agar and Prunella Clough she combines disparate objects including the ubiquitous surrealist egg in potent totems.


Like Clough a good deal of her inspiration comes from the littoral zone, between shore and sea, the non-site where poetic juxtapositions can grow like delicate crystal crustaceans. And let’s face it her drawings are damn sexy. Ares’ ram’s horn and a hank of golden Venus hair? I mean please… Be caressed by her pencil.
Caroline has been short listed for the Derwent Art Prize.



Here’s all the information about our event…





‘Watercolour Now’ at the Sentinel Gallery and the Sunday Times Watercolour Prize

‘Watercolour Now’

I am in a wonderful exhibition at the Sentinel Gallery in Wivenhoe. I was delighted to be asked to participate by Jane Lewis. It has some great work in it, most of which I was unfamiliar with. I love seeing new work. It is a beautifully hung show with delightful and intelligent juxtapositions, put together by Pru Green and Rosie Harman. There are some fascinating correspondences between abstract and figurative work which I really like. It runs until 25th September so do see if you can make it down.


Here’s me with my painting ‘Moon boy’, a James Faure Walker and a Clive Davis plate.


A cracking group with two of my paintings, two by Jane Lewis and one by James Faure Walker


A great corner with my painting ‘Apollo Garden’ on the left; Bridget Moore’s ‘Yellow Room’ and Caroline McAdam Clark’s ‘Promised Land’ and more ceramics by Clive Davis. Bridget’s work has a Sickert like use of dark but the lightness of touch of Bonnard. Caroline’s landscape uses intriguing and beguiling patterns combined with collage elements. Both are really lovely.


On the right here are Gertie Young’s wonderfully whimsical landscapes always with a dark shadow of looming evil lurking in the background. And on the left Wendy Jacob’s sand dune. The exhibition also features the work of Debbie Ayles whose work I couldn’t photograph very well but she is the featured artist at the Minories shop in Colchester at the moment.



In further Watercolour News I have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Watercolour Prize. Hurrah! The shortlisted works will be shown at the Mall Galleries, London from 19 – 24 September 2016, and will continue to tour to venues across the UK, including Parabola Arts centre, Cheltenham (24 – 29 October 2016) and Guildford House Gallery, Guildford (10 December 2016 – 28 January 2017). Below is my painting ‘Lily White Boys’ which made the cut. The title refers to the English folk song ‘Green Grow the Rushes – Ho’ which is obscure in meaning but vivid in imagery. I like to peer behind the curtain of the obvious. I like not knowing.



First resident in our Silo starts today: Mil Stricevic

Mil Stricevic is arriving from Glasgow today to start our first residency in our completed Silo. He will be working with our Professor of Wood, Nicol Wilson, on a new Sonic Vista bench updated from the 2002 project Mil and I undertook in Barrow-in-Furness.  Hopefully the prototype will be available for our Open Studio. It will then be pimped by Simon Emery at the Paintbox.



Balustrade made of sweet chestnut and cherry harvested by Alex Morton (@alex.gardenlore) and Mike Polom (@hugsparty), built by Nicol Wilson with David Howe.




Mil Stricevic in 2002 with the original Sonic Vista bench in Barrow-in-Furness

Line-up for Open Studios is developing nicely…

We are very excited to announce our line-up for the Open Studios. As is usual, it being our Open Studio, Freddie Robins and Ben Coode-Adams will be the lynch-pins, the mainstays, the eye of the storm, the still centre, the big end. We will have a larger selection of old work for sale at bargain bucket prices than ever as well as the new stuff. I feel I am becoming better and better at painting, so the new ones are really worth owning:-)

We are delighted to announce that renowned international artist Julie Arkell will be showing her work with us. Julie has spent the last forty years developing a practice based around papier maché. She has that commitment to craft in her medium and fluidity in ‘thinking through doing’ that we value most highly. She interweaves folk traditions with popular culture to create a unique, striking, sometimes sinister, personal mythology. Her work might be described as comfort ‘toys’ for a demented age. Twisted childhood memories combine with a delightful, inventive use of materials. Like many women artists her work scares the shit out of the male dominated art world.

That mythology permeates her whole life, her home, and her clothes. She is having a good clean out and will be bringing forty years worth of studio bits and bobs for sale. This is a rare, if not unique event, and Julie’s first showing in Essex for many years. So get the look!

'May, Pixie, Stanley' Julie Arkell

‘May, Pixie, Stanley’ Julie Arkell

We are open 1st & 2nd October 2016 11am-6pm Feering Bury Farm Barn, Coggeshall Road, Feering, Colchester Essex CO5 9RB. You are welcome.


Open Studio announced for 1st & 2nd October 2016

We’re excited to announce our Open Studio event is scheduled for 1st & 2nd October 2016 11am-6pm. We will hold our famous café run by kids (now the kids are a year older) with the cheapest cup of tea for miles around, £1 including a biscuit.

Our museum will be properly open this year.

More details later, including the line-up of artists. Quiver with anticipation.

flushed away