TWO artists are proving that landscape art is not strictly restricted to the canvas in a new exhibition in Allendale.

Original members of co-operative group Allendale Creative Artists, Jean Haste and Thelma Russell helped to bring Allendale Forge Studios to life in 2006, and have continued to support the artistic hub by displaying their work in the gift store and serving at the shop.

This month the pair will showcase their colourful, unique artwork, handmade entirely from wool and silk at their joint exhibition Earth - The Seasons and the Sky held at Forge’s gallery.

Jean and Thelma first met in the nineties, volunteering backstage to create the costumes and set designs for amateur theatre company called Billingham Players in their hometown in Teeside, which they are still involved with today..

“We’re both creative people with hands that needed to be kept busy, so we bonded fairly instantly over our shared love for arts and crafts,” said Jean.

“We both wanted to push ourselves more, and experiment with new styles and mediums, so we signed up for various classes across the North-East.

“I had always painted conventionally on a canvas with watercolours, oils and pastels and I grew up sewing and knitting, but it never occurred to me to combine the two mediums until we attended a one-day silk painting workshop together which was held by Jill Clay.

“From that moment I was hooked, and ever since then I seem to spend all my time looking at things and thinking ‘I wonder if I can do that in silk painting’?”

Although it is Northumberland’s varied countryside and its abundance of nature which inspires Jean’s work, her pieces are deliberately not set anywhere specific, so that the landscapes can speak to viewers from all across the country.

“It’s hard not to be inspired by the wildlife, the changing seasons and particularly the pink sunsets we are lucky enough to get in this part of the world. So far, I’ve never had to struggle for ideas on what to paint, because there is so much on my doorstep.”

There are two methods Jean uses to construct her silk artworks, and both involve the use of household appliances.

“I either use heat fix paint technique, which is simply paint designed to be used on fabrics, and I’ll fix that down on to the silk by ironing it in,” explained Jean.

“My favourite technique though is to dye the silk, and then fix the colour in with steam, which I do by placing the fabric in a vegetable steamer for anywhere between 12 minutes and two hours, depending on the size.”

Achieving the same level of detail which you might find on a scenic landscape painting on to a delicate silk has its hardships though, because the nature of the fabric is to spread, which Jean said gives her limited control over the piece.

To make the trees, wildflowers and mountains out of thread, she uses a technique called ‘free embroidery’, named by fellow textile artist Alison Holt.

This technique means she has to remove the feed dogs on her machine, in order to feed the fabric through by hand, and control the stitching to where she wants it to go.

Thelma’s talents lie with her wool work, which she began experimenting with 20 years ago.

Her desire to work with wool was propelled by her concerns about environmental issues, and reducing her plastic waste.

“The art of making felt only requires sheep’s wool, water and lots of elbow grease,” she said. “I don’t need to use any of the plastic tools or materials which are so often found in commercial arts and crafts now.

“It’s a natural, low-tech and handmade method of creating sustainable art.”

Keen to recycle where she can, Thelma also sources much of her materials secondhand from charity shops.

It was her interest in costume traditionally bright ethnic clothing which influenced her colourful work.

“I’m taken by the fusion of elaborate decorative pieces made with humble material.

“I’ve never tired of the infinite design possibilities of simple geometrical shapes like rectangles and circles,” she said.

Whilst she does create felt landscape paintings, Thelma places more emphasis on her ever growing collection of functional objects, as she calls them, which include rugs, jewellery, vases and table decorations.

“Working with sheep wool is something humans have practised in all cultures for thousands of years to clothe and protect themselves, so it helps me to feel connected with the past,” she said.

Earth - The Seasons and the Sky will run from Tuesday, July 2 to Wednesday, July 31 at Forge Gallery 2.

Visitors are invited to watch a demonstration of wool and silk work from artists on July 6.