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A Family of Cornish Artists

Ted Dyer, John Dyer and Joanne Short are Cornwall's most famous family of contemporary figurative painters in Cornwall.

A Portrait of the artists John Dyer, Joanne Short and Ted Dyer for whom painting is most definitely a family affair.

Cornish artists John Dyer and Joanne Short painting on St Michael's Mount with their daughter Martha-Lilly Dyer

Ask John Dyer for a list of his favourite things in life and right up there with dogs with damp noses and stars in the sky you'll find watching his two young daughters finding their feet through art.

It is, after all, a talent that runs in the blood of every member of the family and one that formed an intrinsic part of John's own childhood.

John explained: "Painting was our life really. Both of my parents painted in the early years - it consumed my father in every way. It certainly took most of his time and the time it didn't take up was spent on projects to allow him to paint."

And for the Dyers' offspring it meant exciting early careers as walk-on extras in a variety of holiday hotspots.

John said: "For example if he needed more reference of children in the landscape my parents would make cloths for us, hats, waistcoats etc and off we would go to Cornwall, Somerset, France etc to play and picnic in the landscape."

John's father is, of course, the post-impressionist painter Ted Dyer while his childhood friend turned wife if the renowned colourist painter Joanne Short. It's a combination that makes for a heady mix of creativity for them all.

Said John: "I love it - there is always something to inspire me and keep me on my toes too! I grew up in a house (Knowle Cottage in Holywell Bay) that was always full of painting, photography and creativity and now I find myself in a house full of painting, ceramics, design and music which is wonderful."

"I love to watch art being created and I enjoy the creative process that we all go through in different ways. It is like living in an art school, our very own 'Falmouth School of Art'."

Joanne added: "It's great - it makes for lots of ideas bouncing around and lots of positive competitiveness, It's always a race to see who gets into the studio first and chooses the music and who has to do the school run instead of getting the brushes moving straight away!"

"Whenever we go away we always take a drawing book each and all sit quite happily in a line drawing what is around us. Recently we were on a trip to Paris and all sat in a row inside Notre Dame drawing the architecture and windows. We must have looked quite a sight!"

Cornish artist Ted Dyer in his Falmouth studio
Above: Artist Ted Dyer in his Falmouth studio

"Somebody asked to photograph us in a garden in Florence when Wilamena was just 2 because we were all painting our own version of the view across the Florence rooftops. They thought it looked amazing. We are strong believers that all children are great artists."

Indeed it was as a child that John first learned his love of painting.

John explained: "I did watch my father paint and my children do the same with me. After school I would often sit quietly watching and sometimes was allowed to paint on his canvases; maybe a background area or even the odd cow in the distance!"

"I was allowed to 'help' in every aspect from getting new reference material, stretching canvases, the very occasional dabble on one of his works and every week we would deliver the new paintings to the gallery that represented him and I would see the commerce side of the business."

 

Cornish artist John Dyer painting on the island of Tresco
Above: Artist John Dyer painting on Tresco, Isles of Scilly

As artists, their styles could scarcely be more diverse, yet all three members of the family say they continue to learn from each other.

John said: "I admire Joanne's use of line and the way she can draw so fluidly and with great expression. Her compositions are stunning and her use of colour is fantastic. Often the last thing to be painted is the sky in a Joanne Short painting and when she floods that oil over the white canvas the entire painting changes. Sometimes it will be a hot pink, other days limes or turquoise skies appear and I love that."

"My father's use of light and his incredible ability to use oil paint to create exactly the image he is after will always be magical to me. He can paint and draw in an exceptional way and his brushes are simply an extension to his mind and will."

Joanne added: "One thing which makes me laugh about the way we work is that John starts with the background first and works on top of it and I work from the foreground and the sky is the last element to go into the painting. When we are out painting the landscape our work looks hilariously different right up until the last brush stroke when it all comes together and hopefully both paintings vaguely resemble what is in front of us!"

 

Cornish artist Joanne Short painting in Italy
Above: Artist Joanne Short at work in the Italian landscape

And from father, Ted, perhaps the greatest compliment of all: "The fact that I have both artists' paintings hanging in our house is indicative of my appreciation of their paintings. In the case of John's work from the very early days which are some of my favourites."

As for the future, well while the Dyer family may travel, its heart will always remain right here in Cornwall.

Joanne said: "Cornwall is a special place for anyone to be I guess. It's special to John and I because we grew up here - we were at the same primary school actually and we even appear in the same cine films of sports days and country dancing events!"

John added: "As I watch my children grow and develop as musicians/artists I can see great possibilities for them and a new artistic journey for me. I will always paint my life and follow my heart as best I can."

View all the latest paintings of Cornwall by the three artists.

By Sarah Lillicrap. Courtesy for County to Sea Magazine 

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