Once a month inside The Reading Room in the sweet village of Crathorne near Yarm the clock stops.
The pace slows as a gathering of creatives leave the 21st Century behind for a few hours and turn their thoughts – and paintbrushes – to gentle pursuits.
It’s a world where you could imagine a painterly Beatrix Potter, or Jane Austen and her sisters, gently sketching and painting, passing the time in a mix of quiet and conversation.
The Reading Room is where florist Kirsty Johnson and artist Vicky Trainor run A Still Life workshops. They mix traditional skills, such as watercolour painting with the modern – such as instant photography.
The Sunday Art School was borne out a desire by Kirsty and Vicky to nurture a creative community in the North.
“So much happens further South and we knew through our own individual businesses that there were so many ‘hidden gems’ of talent and creative life in the area”, says Kirsty.
“We wanted to establish and be part of a nurturing, collaborative and creative community. Our intention is to support people to learn new skills, make wonderful connections and to realise their latent creativity. We put real value on helping people take moments for themselves, to feel great by allowing themselves to do things they love”, she adds.
The ethos envelops food, flowers, art, photography, foraging and walking in countryside nearby. And it is all about taking a moment and doing simple things.
Kirsty adds: “We felt increasingly that there was a need for people to indulge creatively rather than just consume; to take pleasure doing simple things, together.
“Life particularly at the moment is stressful and full-on for most of us. Rather than offering more we suggest less… slowing down, taking notice, spending time in nature, connecting with like minded souls.
“As life whizzes by, creativity often falls down the list of priorities and people forget not only how calming it can be, but also how uplifting it is and how much confidence it can bring. A little creative self indulgence is good for the soul!”
All the A Still Life workshops have a nature or botanical theme or focus.
“We spend a lot of time outdoors, we find it calming and it has become the essence of all we do. Connecting with nature grounds us and sets our daily rhythm”, she adds.
“Our regular Sunday Art School has been one of our favourite so far. It is an opportunity to rediscover skills and engage with your creative side – simple indulgence of experimentation and expression. There is a beautifully relaxed feel to evening, Vicky introduces techniques and encourages experimentation but there is no wrong answer, no pace to stick to. It really is a few hours just for you”, says Kirsty.
Workshops include photography with in-house photographer Charlotte Eve of Eve Wanders, floral design, printing, flower growing, inspiring creative walks (at Cod Beck in Osmotherly), styling days, and instagram gatherings.
They also plan some tasty slow food gatherings. Slow Food Social works in conjunction with Kate Burton who has started a beautiful new business, ‘Cardamom & Dill’.
At each small gathering Kate will curate and introduce a bespoke menu based on her Mediterranean travels. Each plant-based dish is delicately layered with spices and herbs.
Kirsty and Vicky spent more than a year researching exactly what A Still Life should be.
“Long nights were spent discussing our ethos, what our customers absolutely HAD to feel when they left one of our workshops. It is a brand lived from the heart with true and authentic intentions that we hope will evolve and grow over the years”, adds Kirsty.
Alongside workshops, Kirsty and Vicky run seasonal markets from Crathorne with a group of Northern suppliers including an artisan bakery, lifestyle ateliers, local grown flowers and natural botanical skincare.
In addition to workshops and seasonal markets, they can offer bespoke workshops to businesses for staff development.
For details of forthcoming workshops see: astill-life.co.uk
Photography: Charlotte Eve of Eve Wanders: evewanders.com