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Bright new art at Drawn to the Valley Spring exhibition of 40 artists

It’s hard to believe, when you look closely at the extraordinary fine detail in artist Matt Kavanagh’s drawings, that they are all done entirely in biro, writes Laura Joint.

Matt, from Tavistock, is a ballpoint pen artist and his favorite trusty ‘tool’ is the humble Bic biro. Matt has kept his talent hidden up until now, sharing his work only with family and friends. But after encouragement from them and a few additional nudges from his wife Nichola, he has recently started to exhibit and to sell his work from his website.

He is one of 40 artists from the Tamar Valley area who are exhibiting at the Drawn to the Valley Spring Exhibition at the Tamar Valley Center in Gunnislake from May 28 to June 4. The theme of the exhibition is ‘The Valley Awakens’ and its focus is on ‘new works and new ideas to celebrate the new world we find ourselves in’.

Matt’s work (right) completely fits that bill. While becoming better known in recent years thanks to some high-profile artists, ballpoint pen art is still a highly original and unorthodox artform. For Matt, it all started in the classroom back in the 1990s: ‘When I was at school, I used to drift away and start doodling during lessons. I had a Bic pen and I found you could draw really well with them.

‘I still use those everyday Bic pens for my art now — the black Bic pens are particularly good because they don’t bleed. With colours, I tend to use Staedtler ballpoint pens.’

Matt usually works from detailed sketches he draws, or he will sometimes work from photographs he has taken. Much of his work by him is based on places he visits in Devon and Cornwall, and he is particularly inspired by Dartmoor.

He draws on brilliant white mount boards because they don’t warp or discolor over time. It takes hours of painstaking layering to create his striking drawings of him, which are done over several days to allow the ink to dry between layers. It’s these multiple layers that create the photo-realistic effect: ‘For monochrome pieces, I will only need one pen,’ explained Matt. ‘By using layers and layers, I can get the different shades I want – it will take four or five layers of ink to create jet black.

‘With the colored drawings, I use a multitude of colored pens. Again, the various shades of color are created by the layers — the drawing I’ve done of Lydford Gorge is a good example of this. I used a lot of colors for the trunks of the trees in that one.’

Matt, 41, joined the Drawn to the Valley collective of artists and creatives when he and Nichola moved to Tavistock from Nottingham last year. Recently, he had his first exhibition of him, at Host Galleries in Plymouth. For the Drawn to the Valley Spring Exhibition, he will be exhibiting some of his originals alongside limited edition prints and greetings cards.

Another bright new artist taking part is Lauren Jobe, from St Ann’s Chapel. Lauren, 23, has lived in the Tamar Valley all her life of her. Like Matt, she has only recently started to show her work de ella after quitting her job during lockdown to pursue her career as an artist: ‘I was at home, furloughed, and I picked up my paint brush again. I’ve always loved painting and lockdown kick-started everything.

‘Being a full-time artist is the best decision I’ve ever made. I feel that I’ve found my path in life.’

As an artist who specializes in pour painting, Lauren’s work is also in tune with the exhibition’s focus on new ideas: ‘I like to experiment, to do things that are new and different, and I also find that pour painting is a good way to express myself. You can be creative and bold — there are no limits. And it’s very colourful.’

Lauren’s favored technique is Dutch pouring, which uses air to manipulate the paint. The starting point of her pieces of her is usually a light sketch. She will then pour her de ella mixture of acrylic paint and a pouring medium onto the canvas, before plugging in her de ella all-important tool: ‘I use a hair dryer,’ she said. ‘The different levels of the air cause the paint to overlap — it creates a really nice little petal effect.’

Lauren is developing her way of working and has just started ‘The Freedom Collection’, a new series of acrylic paintings of wild animals. The use of colors makes these paintings equally striking — her ongoing piece of her, Stag (right), shows this well. This is Lauren’s second exhibition of her, following a solo event in Tavistock earlier this year.

There are hundreds of exhibits from local artists to see and buy at the Drawn to the Valley Spring Exhibition, open daily from 10.30am to 4.30pm.

See more on Arts and Antiques feature page 14 or go to

Matt Kavanagh – Burrator Woodland, Dartmoor. (matt kavanagh ) (matt kavanagh)

Matt Kavanagh - Wild Garlic at Lydford Gorge

Matt Kavanagh – Wild Garlic at Lydford Gorge (matt kavanagh ) (matt kavanagh)

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