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There were so many well-wishers and friends at the opening of The Valentine Gallery on 19th May 2012 that it was impossible to get through the crowds and take a better photo. This one shows Annabelle and her partner, Vlad.

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(Published December 2011)

BLANDFORD artist Annabelle Valentine swapped her oil-paints and brushes for tools of a different trade to transform a town centre shop into her own studio and art gallery.

Working alone, and often in difficult and dangerous conditions, Annabelle spent eight weeks carrying out a major facelift on the listed Georgian building at 45 Salisbury Street.

The Valentine Gallery will open next spring, but meanwhile Annabelle is painting in the light-flooded studio where the large ‘shop-front’ windows give passers-by a wonderful view of her working on her portrait commissions.

“It’s turned out to be a remarkably sociable way of life and so different from being shut away in the room I used at home, where I was completely on my own. Here, people wave as they walk by or call in for a chat or to ask about my work and commission me to paint for them. They find it fascinating to watch me work, and I’m lucky that I don’t find it all distracting. I can work while I talk. It’s a lovely way to make friends with strangers.”

Over the weeks, some of them would have grown used to the unlikely sight of a young woman high up on scaffolding, brandishing various tools, brushes and buckets of lime mortar. However, Annabelle says there were sometimes raised eyebrows when she emerged at the foot of the ladder. “I think people expected some burly builder to be doing the work,” she says.

Annabelle, who is also engaged in restoring her Georgian home in nearby Orchard Street, bought the former shop and cellar, with the freehold to the whole building, and knew that if she wanted the work of transforming the premises done within her budget and exactly as she wanted it, she would need to do it herself. “I’m a perfectionist,” she says. “I don’t cut corners, and I haven’t just slapped paint on. I’ve prepared every surface meticulously, learning how to do certain things where necessary as I’ve gone along.”

The toughest day was spent signwriting, hanging over next door’s roof in a howling gale.

After that experience, Annabelle admits “it’s easier to paint a portrait than a vertical line while hanging upside down.

“All the letters were sloping and I had to spend ages straightening them up. I also had to make two stencils as the first one turned to papier mâché in a torrential shower just before I had time to trace it out.”

She also suffered with lime burn thanks to a hole in her glove, and a lot of aching muscles.

The words ‘In loving memory of Daphne and John Valentine’ appear over the door. “Thoughts of my dear parents have helped me get through each day,” Annabelle says. “The purchase of this building was partly funded by an inheritance from them, so I really wanted it to be a project that they would be excited by. They were always so supportive of my art. To have dedicated this to them is a great motivator for me.”

Her mother, a writer and watercolourist, was a descendant of the eminent Victorian portrait and landscape painter John Linnell, and she taught Annabelle to draw at a young age. Like Linnell, Annabelle has made her name in portraiture and now a passion for the countryside – in her case, the glories of Dorset, which she loves – is encouraging her to extend her repertoire. The trees at Badbury Rings, in particular, have caught her fancy and she is making a season-by-season study of them.

“I started off in South Devon as a painter of trees,” she says. “I opened a tiny gallery in Chudleigh which I funded by working as a distributor of vegetable boxes for Riverford Organics.”

Her art training was at colleges in Portsmouth and Exeter and she loves the fact she continues to learn and developing her skills, not least those which are enabling her to turn the shabby old shop floor into a thing of beauty. For this she will be laying an area of new floor, using floorboards reclaimed from the former Blandford parish rooms.

The Valentine Gallery will officially open in 2012 in time for Dorset Art Weeks (26th May–10th June) with a new exhibition once the interior is completed.

The gallery will mostly display Annabelle’s own work, but she says she plans to be quite ambitious and tempt in some of her favourite and well-known artists from time to time.

Annabelle, who has allowed herself only two days off since July, says: “Although it has been well worth the effort, I am very glad that the bulk of the work is finished and I can now concentrate on all my art commissions which are on order for Christmas.”

See Annabelle’s paintings online at http://www.thevalentinegallery.co.uk

RS

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