Meet the first ever artist in residence at Thorp Perrow Arboretum and see how she paints using the earth beneath her feet

From living on remote island in the Outer Hebrides, Rebecca Styles has returned to her native Yorkshire and become Thorp Perrow Arboretum’s first artist in residence. Catherine Scott meets her.
Rebecca Styles has returned to Yorkshire and become Thorp Perrow Arboretum’s first artist in residence.Rebecca Styles has returned to Yorkshire and become Thorp Perrow Arboretum’s first artist in residence.
Rebecca Styles has returned to Yorkshire and become Thorp Perrow Arboretum’s first artist in residence.

As the inaugural artist in residence at Thorp Perrow Arboretum, near Bedale, landscape painter Rebecca Styles is looking forward to painting trees after moving back to the county of her birth from the Outer Hebrides, where there weren’t any.

“My husband and I both have itchy feet and we used to work together. He was a master stonemason we’d spend a lot of time living in the van at the places where we were working,” says Styles, who was born in Keighley but left Yorkshire in her early 20s. “We then got ourselves a narrow boat – which was always on the move.”

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The couple then decided they wanted to embrace wilderness and built a house on the Isle of Lewis, off Scotland’s north-west coast.

Rebecca StylesRebecca Styles
Rebecca Styles

“It was an incredible change, beyond what we expected. As soon as we arrived it became clear that I would need a studio – I just wanted to paint as there was inspiration around every corner. But after four years, and as a landscape painter, I needed a change. You get to the point where you need a different palette to look at.”

During her time on Lewis, Styles started to use the earth around her to create her own paints. “It was during lockdown. We were still able to go out and about but no one was allowed to come to the island, We decided to explore the island in our campervan and see what colours I could find. I was so shocked. I started to use them in each of the paintings I was making about that place.”

“When I was little one of the things I can remember was going to Howarth to an apothecary shop and I was mesmerised by these bins of things like mustard powder.

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“When we moved to his island and we were getting into offshore delivery prices and waiting times, I thought we would have to be more self-sufficient. I started to stretch my own canvases so I didn’t have to worry about the damage in transit, I was working to my own timescale and then it transgressed into this idea about the paint.”

Rebecca uses pigment from the earth where she paints in her paintingsRebecca uses pigment from the earth where she paints in her paintings
Rebecca uses pigment from the earth where she paints in her paintings

A cliff face is the best place to find earth, says Styles. “You need to find things you are able to grind down. I grind in a pestle and mortar. You can use it at that stage or go another stage to purify it more.

“I have glass mulling plate and a glass muller and make a little well in the middle of the powder and add whatever I want. I am primarily an oil painter so I add linseed oil into the middle and fold it in until you get the consistency of paint.”

Inspired by Italian artist Carlo Romero who paints only with the earths that he finds, Styles decided to go out and have a look what colours she could find in the earth and cliffs on Lewis. “I think it is an important way to connect yourself to the thing you are trying to create,” she says.

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Styles has spent recent years exploring some of the UK’s most beautiful places, collecting foraged materials for use in her paintings and creating a series of works for exhibitions, including her first Hebridean collection, Bigger Than Us, shown at Grinneabhat Gallery, North Bragar in spring 2022, followed by Alchemy, an exhibition of paint, poetry and place in collaboration with writer Heather Young, shown at Baile na Cille Church on the Isle of Lewis, and her winter 2022/23 project Finding Lewis at Talla Na Mara Arts Centre on the Isle of Harris.

Rebecca painting at Thorp Perrow ArboretumRebecca painting at Thorp Perrow Arboretum
Rebecca painting at Thorp Perrow Arboretum

Styles is no stranger to residency. Throughout 2023, she focused on developing her work through a series of plans and residencies based on engaging with new and diverse landscapes. She took up a two-week residency at Brisons Veor, Cornwall, where she explored, in contrast to Scotland’s Western Isles, the softer but still wild landscape of Britain’s South West edge. The resulting collection was exhibited as her very first solo show, at Whitewater Contemporary in Polzeath, Cornwall. In November she undertook a three-week residency at Casa Tagumerche in La Gomera, Canary Islands, at a community art venue 400 meters above sea level with magnificent, unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Residency just make sense to me as they pull you out of your natural environment.”

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Sykes sa ys she also had a very personal reason for wanting to set up a residency in the Arboretum.

"I was born in Yorkshire, in Keighley and went to Bradford College of Art but left Yorkshire quite quickly when I was abut 20. I’ve not lived in Yorkshire since it was an interesting thought that it would be nice to go back to Yorkshire to do a project. It's weird because I didn’t think I was a rooted person. I am a different person to when I left. Everything began to tie in together.

“My parents had moved to Kirklington not far from Thorp Perrow Arboretum and they took us there when we were visiting from the Outer Hebrides. As we were wondering around in May were in the meadow section and I was looking round how strange to think the next time we visit it will be completely different. It stuck in my head and we decided to move back to England. I thought it would be an interesting project based on where we just come from where we were bereft of trees, I was really craving trees. I was also surprised by how I felt to have my season in a muddle in the Outer Hebrides as they aren’t the same as in England – and it’s always windy.

"It was great for the art work and we enjoyed it for a time but we’d done it.”

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She approached Lady Natasha Ropner, owner of Thorp Perrow about the possibility of a project to record the seasons at the Arboretum.

“I wrote a proposal to Lady Natasha and she has been very supportive. I was also keen to do some workshops as I like to explain how simple to find your own colours in the ground where you are.”

Lady Ropner says: “This is our first art residency at Thorp Perrow, and we are delighted to be working with an artist with such an intimate connection to the British landscape. The Arboretum is incredibly beautiful, and holds such important collections, so we are excited to see it documented and celebrated in Rebecca’s work as the year progresses.”

The Arboretum residency started last month with Styles sketching in the rain in the 100 acres of park and woodland. She does also take photographs but doesn’t like to be constrained by them.

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She also plans to hold workshops and show people how to use the earth around them to create pigments to paint with.

“I was a bit worried at first as there are no cliff faces in the Arboretum but I found some trees that had blown over and there the earth had the most amazing pigments.” She uses her ‘natural’ paints alongside shop bought ones as she struggles to find enough to complete an entire painting.

“During my visits to Thorp Perrow this year I will be out and about with my paints making notes and sketches, and I very much hope that visitors will come and say hello if they see me, to chat about nature and learn more about its influence on my work. I feel honored to be given the chance to spend time exploring and painting these beautiful gardens, with their stunning trails and glades, important plant collections and champion trees. I will be busy all year in the park, and back at my studio I will be creating an arboretum collection of oil paintings for exhibition.”

This new project at Thorp Perrow Arboretum will run to 2024 and is supported by Wallace Seymour Fine Art of Settle, who will be supplying Styles with a selection of their unique earth pigments, all sourced in the county of Yorkshire to go alongside those she forages herself.

Visit for further information and follow Styles at