Cornwall LivingIssue #108

A creative haven

A sensory seasonal experience in harmony with nature’s cycle of growth and stillness, reflected in the changing seasons.

Immersed in the seasons’ yearly cycles – where the outdoors is the studio and the elements are as much the media and tools as the paints and brushes – the School of Outdoor Art (SOOA) has been putting down creative roots for the last 20 years. Artist Sian Blunt (Pilley) and husband Drew Pilley ( married on the land they bought in 2002, planting an orchard and a variety of fruit trees as wedding presents. Over the last three years, the fruits of their labour have begun to blossom.

Sian studied art first at Falmouth Art College in the early 90s, specialising in painting. She then went onto study community, therapy, public and contextual arts alongside developing her own fine art practice at degree level at UWE Bower Ashton, Bristol. Her wide and ranging experiences include community and cultural projects, and teaching both children and adults in the creative arts and education sector. Development of her own commercial practice took a break whilst having children, but with regular sales and the odd commission, she is now receiving further support from Cultivator – an EU funding stream that innovates and expands the Cornish Creative industries – to progress this area further. As a developing artist, Sian feels best placed to support others who are attempting to dedicate more energy, time and motivation into their own artwork, having understood first-hand the difficulties, family pressures and exhaustion that often become a barrier to reaching creative aspirations.

As a client of Cultivator, Sian was successfully awarded funding to design and collaborate with local companies to realise her vision of a Portable Outdoor Studio. The ‘POD’ Studio enables, with ease, established or budding artists to develop their arts practice in the outdoor environment. An easel and workstation that contains everything you need, within a box on wheels, means that you can flow naturally in your ‘creative bubble’, uninterrupted by resource sharing and gathering that is often experienced in group classes or courses.

“Some people may find a course situation intimidating, perhaps intense, interacting with people they have never met,” says Sian. “Although there is opportunity for skills sharing and connection with other participants on a SOOA course, the Pod Studios and the outdoor space allow participants to have a focused and peaceful environment to work through their processes independently, developing ideas in isolation yet connected to the natural world and their unique place within it; sharing in tandem with the group community but accommodated in your own personal space.”



The Pod Studios are available for local sketching groups and artist collectives, as well as those in need of space for their creative research project or art residencies. You can also book the Pod Studios for your event or premises, and if youíre an artist and wish to deliver a course as part of an SOOA programme, Sian and and Drew would love to hear from you. Simply email


Sian sees the creative process as an aspect of the cyclical nature of the natural world: “We experience moments of contemplation and frustration, whilst making. The seed of an idea or creation can form which then requires effort and careful nurturing until we see the work bloom or come to fruition. Often along the way we can have moments of doubt that sometimes stunts growth, resistance to obstructions or unwanted judgments that attack our vulnerable shoots. Becoming familiar with this process and seeing it reflected back in nature, I believe supports our creative development. As we ‘harvest’ our work we then begin new work or the next project and the whole process begins again.

“When I create I feel a connection to something beyond words – stillness, yet a flow,” continues Sian. “The Pod Studios almost reverse the concept of an art studio, where the internal is the personal physical space. Being in the expansive outdoors, somehow brings you closer to the internal workings of yourself, enhanced by a creative focus. Something that our busy lives and busy minds sometimes struggle to achieve and permit. I can’t say that the experience will always be relaxing. Often the creative process is emotive and can surface frustrations. It is only then that a sense of accomplishment or achievement occurs. By moving through some aspect of failure or mistake we begin to trust the process and grow a resilience to going beyond our comfort zones. This to me embodies the creative process and the joy I feel from making art as you overcome challenges and self-doubt.”

Originally designed as a ‘pop-up’ business with some courses at The Croft, alongside a travelling programme of mobile art school opportunities, supporting local and national events, the current climate has reshaped the programme to embed further at the parcel of land just off the A30 near Camborne. Hidden off the beaten track, it is situated surprisingly near to civilisation – centrally positioned in the heart of mining landscape just 20 minutes equidistant from the stunning north and south coast’s cliffs, beaches, fishing villages and creeks.



Upcoming courses include, Printmaking, Still Life, Life Drawing, Collage, Place Based art and Visual Storytelling. Visit to find out more. Alternatively, email to subscribe to ‘disseminare’ – a free quarterly newsletter with news on upcoming courses, artists, and updates from The Croft.


SOOA is very much a movable feast with ‘outside the box’ ideas and suggestions of how these ingenious, imaginative creative stations can be used in infinite ways. As an example, collaborations with Immerse Outdoors have taken the SOOA to the water with sketching and painting courses on the Helford river. Based at Gweek Classic Boatyard, a fleet of Canadian canoes are set to go up the creek with a sketchbook again this season, with experiences ranging from wildlife and birdwatching and drawing courses, to a day on the river gathering source material to develop back at The Croft as part of a two or three-day painting course. Other collaborations have included four-day creative family art residencies, and combined activities with schools, Brownie, Guide and Ranger groups, rotating with art, craft, archery and stand-up paddle boarding, to name but a few!

Both Sian and Drew have extensive combined professional career backgrounds in the outdoor, education and arts sectors, teaching and lecturing as well as designing and co-ordinating community events and projects for at least the past 20 years. With SOOA, their organically developing range of courses and events is constantly expanding, annually offering a balanced programme that will appeal to all interests and abilities, rotating around the seasons.

Traditional painting courses such as this year’s Andrew Barrowman ‘Painting the Seasons’ courses are offered as a standalone day course, or discounted as a block booking of multiple courses that lead you progressively through painting techniques and the seasonal changes in the landscape. Not only will participants take away a completed piece on board using oil paints, but also their very own high quality School Of Outdoor Art drawing board sketchbook. Processing your own medium is another regular feature, with this year’s programme hosting inspirational artists within this field, such as earth pigment expert, Peter Ward, and Flora Arbuthnott – a botanical pigment specialist from Plants and Colour, currently based in Devon.

The ‘Elements’ half day series of courses, designed by Sian, focus on embracing the outside environment as an interactive aspect of the work. The first course in May considers ‘fire’ and the medium we produce from it. Participants will experience making their own willow charcoal and come away with a bundle of their own produced drawing media and sketchbook to carry forward into their own creative practice.

“Our need to deepen our creative connection with the natural world has never been more timely,” concludes Sian. “As changes to our climate are accelerating at unprecedented rates, the planet depends on our awareness and willingness to contribute to the drastic impacts we collectively will need to make. Education, adaption, imaginative solutions and creative resilience are tools that will support a sustainable future for generations to come. SOOA hopes to play a part in symbiotic appreciation and developmental learning of the natural world and our place within it, as we move nearer to environmental and social challenges we are inevitably facing.”

To find out more about the School of Outdoor Art, to book a course and to read more about Sian and Drew’s incredible story so far, be sure to visit


For more creative Cornish inspiration, turn to click here to read this month’s ‘On display’ guide.

"...the Pod studio and the outdoor space allows participants to have a focused and peaceful environment to work through their processes independently..."