Meet the Artist

I thought I would do a little 'Meet the artist' article for my blog this month. Just a few questions and answers about me as an artist that I thought might be of interest.



When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist? The first time I was asked 'what do you want to be when you grow up' I replied 'dental nurse'. I have no idea why. I had no burning desire to be a dental nurse. I suspect I did not know what I wanted to be at 6 years old and it seemed like a good enough answer to give to an adult. The second time I was asked I was 7 and I knew I wanted to be an artist. It stuck with me through the remaining years (apart from some mild flirtations with being a herbalist or a geologist).


What inspires your art? I suppose it is a bit obvious but nature inspires me. Wildlife, and mammals in particular, are the things I like to paint most. Which is why most of my wildlife paintings have a white background - I like the animals to speak for themselves rather than be in a situation. Lisa Congdon* said that artists '... are making work to communicate their own version of the truth'. My truth is that I find animals beautiful and fascinating and I want to represent them to the best of my ability. If I can help bring awareness to certain animals and the environment at the same time then that is an added bonus.
* Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic - Lisa Congdon


hand painted badger pendant


What research to you do? I read about nature and wildlife, of course, but as I live in the middle of the country I have all kinds of wonders on my doorstep. I walk a lot and have spent years exploring my local area. For many years I  took part in nature conservation surveys and supplied information to my local biological record centre. It has been amazing to see the changes in the types of wildlife we have here - from the sad decline in hedgehogs, red squirrels and herons to the new species coming in, e.g. nuthatches, magpies and grey squirrels. Nature is always evolving.

Have any particular artists influenced your style? Albrecht Durer is one of my favourite artists. His execution of fur and detail has always amazed me. I have a framed print of his 'Young Hare' hanging above my bed. Another favourite is Elaine Franks who wrote and illustrated 'The Undercliffe'. It is an illustrated journal of the area along the Dorset and Devon coastline and covers a host of wildlife. Her illustrations are very detailed but fresh and full of life. Her art has been a huge influence in what and how I paint.

 


What is one of the most important art related lessons/advice you have been given? Draw what you see, not what you think you see. It came during an art lesson at school after I drew a spider plant and gave it bulbous ends to its leaves instead of pointy ones. For the life of me I could not grasp the variation between the curve of the leaves and the sharp points. In my head the curve in the leaf led to a rounded end. Have I mentioned that I was useless at art at school? It was not until I was 16 that I discovered I might be able to draw a little and I spend the following 30 years honing the skill.

When working with watercolour, what is its most challenging aspect? It has a mind of its own. You never truly control watercolour but you can learn its qualities and work with them. Being mostly a very liquid medium you can train the colour to move in certain directions by adding water or stopping the flow by taking moisture away. But ultimately you are going to work with it rather than control it.

 


watercolour fox sketches


Do you have a favourite nature book? I have a couple. 'The Undercliffe' by Elaine Franks for reasons mentioned above (and I used to live in Dorset). There is a series of animal books by Reaktion Books that covers individual animals, their basic biology, history, myths, art and popular culture that I am very fond of. I have a few of them from Badger, Fox and other British wildlife to Hyena (because hyenas are one of the most fascinating animals out there, in my opinion). They are full of information and illustrations.

Do you have a favourite art supply? Graphite pencil. I love using graphite. Sadly graphite work does not sell very well. People like colour rather than greys and blacks. I recently finished a commission of a black dog in graphite and it has become one of my favourite pieces. The level of detail and variation in shading you can get with it is wonderful.


coal tit graphite pencil drawing


What is your studio like? I don't have a studio. I live in a small cottage with limited room so I use an ordinary kitchen table to work at. It serves its purpose. That is not to say that a studio would not be very nice at some point in the future.

Do you have a favourite colour? No, not really. I love autumnal colours like wines, reds, purples, golden yellow and burnt orange. I also like greens, mainly in the range of aqua green, chartreuse or apple green.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not painting? Walking, watching zombie films, reading and spending time with my sister's dog, Indy.


What superpower would you have and why? I'd say flying so I could get to far away places quickly (I don't drive) - but I don't like heights so I'd need to fly close to the ground.

Favourite or most inspirational place? The British Museum. It has nothing to do with my art but I love ancient history and have a degree in Classical Studies. I could happily move into the British Museum and live there for the rest of my life. There is so much to learn there. And the countryside, of course.

Favourite time of year? Autumn, followed by winter (as long as there is snow).

Autumn view in Scottish Borders


What is your dream project? I don't really have one. My mind is always working and hopping between new plans and ideas. What I would think of as a dream project this week would probably change by next week.

Professionally, what is your goal? To live comfortably from my creative endeavours. Over the last few years it has become harder and harder to find work due to changes and challenges in retail, greater competition and, currently, the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of my creative friends are having the same problem despite having run profitable small businesses for many years. Generally, people are struggling to see financial security in the coming months so it is totally understandable. But it has a knock on effect for businesses like mine that rely on people having disposable income. I did have some big plans for this year but the uncertainty has meant slowing down with those. We are all holding our breath and holding on tight.

Any final words? Being a wildlife artist certainly suits my personality. I like rooting around in the undergrowth looking for interesting things and my idea of a wild night out has always been badger watching. Small business owners are constantly being told to be authentic and share their lives with those who are interested. But, as an introvert, I am not comfortable sharing a lot about myself online. It is very difficult. Ultimately I would rather my work would speak for itself.