Bella Hoare: green goddesses, 4.30am starts and Tolkien quotes

Jun 14, 2024 | Lifestyle | 0 comments

One evening after work I headed to Gasper Cottage on the Stourhead estate in Wiltshire to meet Bella Hoare fresh off the back of her first-ever art exhibition – ‘A Different Green’, at the Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank.

Bella’s exhibition focussed on 20 pieces of work exploring the beauty of the female weaved in with natural references to nature – from forests, leaves and flowers. Her paintings are made up of layers of paint to build the final images to produce a celebration of feminine beauty and power.

Part of the exhibition featured five portraits of women from  The Glasshouse – a social enterprise empowering female prisoners through horticultural training.

Sitting in her studio overlooking her beautiful garden it was one of those interviews where I came away feeling hugely inspired and educated on topics I didn’t have much knowledge on. It was fascinating and I’m delighted to share with you an insight into Bella’s world and my interview.

Bella Hoare in her studio

Bella Hoare in her studio

Bella, could you sum up how you felt after your first-ever exhibition in 3 words?

Rewarding, enjoyable, exhausting!

The aftermath has been huge. I was warned of a slump but that’s not happened yet. At the moment I have lots of ideas going on and it’s exciting to process the feedback. What people liked, what people responded to, in what way and how the next body of work can follow my interest and be the sum of that feedback. The next project needs to be an idea I’m excited about.

Willow detail painting

Willow detail painting

Any key memories from the week?

As part of the private view I had to give a speech and at work, I do this a lot, but for this, I had to work out the order, and the phrasing and impart the joy the paintings have given me that I wanted other people to feel. The paintings are a celebration of life, nature and femininity and a message of hope.

How did you prepare for your first-ever exhibition?

Preparing for the exhibition is hard work from preparing the catalogue to getting the professional photos ready. The catalogue took a month to print, and a month to design. The stress of it was getting The Glasshouse project ready which I started back on 5th August 2023 to get all the work completed by the end of February/March and give it the drying time ready for preparing for the catalogue.

Each of the paintings takes 50-60 hours of work and you can’t rush them all. So, I had lots of easels up in the studio so I could get them going at once – which was fun. I work with oil and mix with cold wax medium, a big thing in the States and more popular with abstract artists. It makes the paint stiffer and means you can use things like translucent paint. You can get all sorts of effects, especially the layering effect and you can get a real effect with 30 layers. How long you need to wait for it to dry depends on how much you add. Some will be okay overnight or some you have to wait a few days.

Bella's paint - lots of earthy colours

Bella’s paint – lots of earthy colours

Where did you learn this technique?

I bought a book on cold wax by American artists demonstrating the techniques – it’s a bible of things you can do! It was about 2-3 years of experimenting and I had no particular work to show for it at the beginning. I learnt you needed to work on board not canvas. A lot of the time I’m working with non-traditional tools scrapers, palette knives, rollers, and brushes to get a certain effect, especially a smooth finish.

Tell us how the partnership came about with The Glasshouse and what it was like working with the women.

I met with them last summer and worked with 5 of the women on the programme. I met them in turn and spent an hour with them to find out more about their personality – what they liked, didn’t like, what they missed, looking forward to. Then, I spent half an hour drawing them, which allowed me to work out how to photograph them, drawing them helped me understand their face.

A Glasshouse portrait

A Glasshouse portrait

What was their reaction to seeing their paintings?

3 of them came to the private viewing. One of them I’d seen a few times and was delicate at the beginning. She said it’s extraordinary for her mental health knowing you’re working on my portrait. People don’t see me. I felt a huge responsibility and wanted to give them recognition, visibility and status. She said only important people get their portraits done. She felt seen.

The portraits have enabled me to introduce the work of The Glasshouse to 500 people to The Glasshouse and what they do and some have gone on to buy a plant from them. The portraits will now be used in a London hotel.

People won’t know this but the reoffending number for female prisoners is 60% and those at The Glasshouse have 0%. I’ve done the easy bit, they’re doing the hard bit. It’s been a positive relationship all around and I feel privileged to have worked with them. I also created a digital version for The Glasshouse with 50% of profits going to The Glasshouse.

How did the green goddess and a different green theme come about?

I’d been looking at the green man and thought ‘why was it always a man’? So started with a woman’s face and it morphed into faces among leaves and forests.

A different green is a quote from Tolkien sung by Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings.

There are so many things I have never seen, in every wood, in every spring there is a different green.

(Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, chapter 3)

How does nature inspire you?

The power of nature is the seasonal renewal. Winter is the time for planting and renewal. We find tea time in the winter is a key time to sit by the log burner, read and research. And in the summer we’re usually out doing stuff – we go from doing to flopping at the end of the day.

Summer isn’t usually my most productive in painting terms. I’m usually out painting at 4.30 am – and I even wake up at 4.30 am all winter. And I fit all this in around a full-time job as a partner in Hoare’s Bank.

During the week I try and keep one evening free to do something arty – going to an exhibition, taking a class. At the end of the week, I take a photo of the painting and put it on my iPad so I can review it and make corrections so when I wake up at 4.30 am on Saturday I’m ready to go. I’ll stop having breakfast and paint until lunchtime and then stop and have a break for a social life.

I get my energy from being on my own painting. I found the exhibition at times draining being always on social mode.

Bella's view from her studio into her garden

Bella’s view from her studio into her garden

Where’s the best place to start for any budding artists?

Start with a piece of paper and a biro. The most important thing to get over is getting it right. With a biro, you can’t erase it. Don’t spend too long, do another one. When I first started life drawing, you can immediately tell if it’s right or not. In a class I was asked can you sing, and do you sing along? Why? Well, it feels nice. So draw like that, and don’t worry. The less you worry about the drawing the better it gets. And it’s the best way to stave off dementia!

And what’s next?

There are various ideas:

  1. A forest-based collection which involves foraging for wood, making a frame, and then the painting responds to the wood I’ve collected.
  2. A portrait series looking at women who are in horticulture: gardeners, and plant breeders and showcase the diversity of this world. It could be quite colourful, with more gold coming in.
  3. Another project with The Glasshouse. The challenge is they don’t want their face involved, so could I do something with their hands and plants – but hands are difficult to paint. However, I want to do more with The Glasshouse.
  4. The other idea is paper and ink making using material from the forest or garden. So berries for ink and I’m growing a forest garden and chosen plants that will have dye I could use. And you can make great dye out of nettles and no one will mind me cutting nettles down!
Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing

To find out more visit:

I hope you enjoyed my interview with Bella, it was a fascinating evening and Bella even gave me a demo on how she paints which you can see over on my Instagram page @becky_wren 

Becky x

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