We meet Lucy Aug, the artist behind our new TOAST card set, in her studio, just outside of Bath.
Lucy Aug is holding a wildflower in her left hand, and a paintbrush in her right. Carefully she dips the paintbrush into an enamel bowl of ink, taps it gently on the side, and begins to paint on the A4 paper in front of her. One strong line for the stem, followed by the loose outline of petals and the delicate profile of the leaves. It is a quick, seamless process. Easy and intuitive. As the ink dries, the rich black softens. The result is not an exacting copy of the flower, but an impression, a likeness, capturing the fleeting liveliness of the organic form.
I'll sit here with a stack of paper in front of me, explains Lucy, and just draw and draw, moving from one flower to the next, or looking at the same from multiple angles. Working in this way removes all sense of control and analysis. She describes how it becomes almost meditative. She'll look up, and notice the sun has gone down and that she's been painting for hours.
It is late summer when we meet Lucy. The air is thick and heady. A storm is brewing. Her studio a jet-black, Japanese-style summerhouse sits comfortably in the landscape, blending into the hedgerows behind. The space is artfully curated and the views of the surrounding Bath countryside are glorious; it is easy to see how you might lose yourself in the task at hand.
The studio lies at the end of a winding track. There is a large stone farmhouse nearby and a corrugated barn. That's where my first studio was, says Lucy, pointing to the barn and encouraging me to look through a thin crack in the door. It was a tiny room at the back. With no windows! Lucy explains that she came across the studio through word of mouth. I'd been asking in the pub where I worked if anyone knew of a cheap studio. And one day, two tree surgeons came in and said I could work in the back of their barn. So I did!
Being so near to the countryside, to the holloways and dense hedgerows, abundant in berries, weeds and wildflowers was, Lucy describes, hugely advantageous, "I just had to step outside and I was inspired!" But the lack of light soon became a problem. After a conversation with Mr Ritner, the farmer who owned the surrounding land and the old farmhouse opposite, she was offered a solution: she could rent a parcel of land from him, for a small sum, and build her own studio.
Mr Ritner became Lucy's modern day patron. Though he has now sadly passed away, she is still incredibly fond of him and his wife Rosemary. They even let me install electricity in the studio, she says, giving her the ability to become a full time, viable artist. The community is so supportive here, enthuses Lucy. People want to help especially if you're a struggling artist. Sometimes I turn up at the studio and people have left interesting wild flowers on my doorstop specimens they've come across and think I might like.
Though Lucy has clearly been favoured by luck, and incredibly fortunate in the people she has stumbled upon, she has had her fair share of misfortune. The reason that I paint flowers, and am so drawn to nature, she tells me all started with an injury. Taking a deep breath, Lucy describes how, in her second year of studying graphics at Bath University, she travelled to London for the day. While walking down the street, she was randomly attacked by a man, who hit her in the head. The incident left Lucy suffering from highly debilitating PTSD. I was in a wheelchair and having a handful of seizures each day. My body just went into shut down. For four years, Lucy lived with her parents, watching as her friends went off to university and found jobs. At this point, I had more in common with my 80 year old neighbours, she says, laughing.
It is this laughter that hints at Lucy's strength of character and contagiously positive outlook. Despite the circumstances, she refused to give up. I knew that I needed a focus, and it was my father who found it. Encouraging me to come into the garden. Lucy began to grow vegetables, and became somewhat obsessive in her love of flower shows from Chelsea and Hampton Court through to the local village fetes. And she started to grow by the moon, monitoring the lunar cycles for the best times to plant. She learnt that her French grandparents, on her father's side, had followed the same process, becoming entirely self-sufficient. They're no longer here, so it was nice to be able to connect to them in this way, and being so in tune with nature really helped me. I was living more on nature's time. Her greatest feat was growing edelweiss which took two years. When it finally bloomed, I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement.
Little by little, Lucy began to heal. She describes how she went back to university to complete her degree in graphics, going on to work as an illustrator. But all the while, she had a deep yearning for nature and plants. In 2015 she took the plunge, hiring a room in one of Bath's iconic Georgian townhouses and setting up her first solo exhibition. The title: 500 Flowers. Over the course of a summer, I painted 500 flowers and decided to exhibit them all to cover the walls in paintings. I was determined to show the evolution of my practice, and even show the ones I wasn't sure about, so people could see how my style changed through the season. The exhibition was a great success. She sold out, with the editor of House&Garden, along with other interior designers, buying several in one go. They bought them as sets, so they could hang them in grids, explains Lucy.
There is something about the paintings that makes them work best as a group. For Lucy, it seems very natural that it should be this way. I can never stop at one. I've always enjoyed repetition, pairings and multiples, it's always been part of my work and process. The set of three cards that Lucy has created for TOAST, printed by Opal Print near to Bath, are taken from the 500 Flowers exhibition. They have been made using the letterpress process, whereby a relief ink plate is gently pressed onto recycled card, leaving a reverse impression. The borage design is of particular importance. I remember when I did that I thought yes! This is it, this is the style that suits me.
Since that first exhibition, Lucy has gone from strength to strength, developing and growing as an artist. She draws everyday and is now experimenting with cyanotype and shadow paintings. As she shows us her latest endeavours - wonderful, sumi ink depictions of hazel and birch, - we hear the storm begin to rumble. It is time to go. Lucy locks up the studio and we walk, reluctantly, through the meadow and back to her car. Waiting on the station platform, I notice there is a tiny flower in my pocket a memento of a beautiful, late summer day.
During the month of March, TOAST held an exhibition of Lucy's work at the Bath shop. Unfortunately, with the temporary closure of all TOAST shops, the exhibition has now come to an end. Lucy is selling her original works from the exhibition on her website and £40 from each sale goes to the charity Refuge and the RSPCA.