Magic forest


Woodford Arts Group member Emma Liebeskind introduces her project tracking the changing seasons in Epping Forest, which was born out of the first lockdown and continues to inspire her

Being reunited in the spring with the Woodford Arts Group (WAG) to showcase our work ‘live’ and ‘in person’ after months of art classes and virtual exhibitions on Zoom made me appreciate the connection we have as a group. WAG benefits the Woodford area by showcasing the talent of resident artists, and by creating an independent arts forum out of which an eclectic but cohesive group can reflect a local vision.   

Our shows reflect the inspiration that many Woodford people find living in proximity to Epping Forest. Fittingly, Packfords Hotel in Woodford, not far from The Green, became a unique cultural hub for us. We were fortunate to be able to use Packfords’ beautiful downstairs public rooms as a gallery space on several occasions. Our most recent summer exhibition was held in the conservatory room normally reserved for wedding parties. We were able to offer a very COVID-safe and well-ventilated viewing experience to our visitors as the room opens out into the hotel’s lovely wooded garden.   

Lockdown forced artists to experiment with unfamiliar methods. Last winter, my sketchbooks were full of dreary charcoal images of the hour-long walks I had been taking for exercise. I felt myself becoming quite depressed with my artwork and realised I desperately needed to inject some colour into my work. I mixed things up by experimenting with water-soluble media, rather than oil-based inks and pastels. Etching onto wet plaster using coloured inks and drawing in the rain using water-soluble graphite sticks created unpredictable results, but that was part of the fun.

First-hand experience of walking in Epping Forest and drawing from observation are central to the way I approach composing landscapes. The decision to use water-soluble materials and to play with the random effects of water creates atmospheric effects that are impossible to predict. A friend said it reminded them of looking through trees in dappled light.

I have an affinity with the Forest that reaches back to my childhood in the 1970s. My dad used to lead my brother and I out on woodland walks around Knighton Woods when we were little, and then bike rides to Loughton as we got older. Once we took the bus out as far as Copped Hall and walked across muddy fields to inspect the ruin, before the M25 cut through the surrounding farmland.

My mother, a history teacher, informed us that Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first performed in old Copped Hall in 1594 and that our freedom to roam in the woods began with a campaign led by Thomas Willingale of Loughton to uphold his ancient commoners’ right to lop firewood in the 1860s.

Epping Forest still feels magical to me; it’s full of the ghosts of the people who have gone before. South Woodford is lucky to have an open space like the Forest on our doorstep. I hope my artwork captures a tangible sense of this special place.

To view more of Emma’s work, visit emmaliebeskind.co.uk

For more information on Woodford Arts Group, visit woodfordartsgroup.org

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