In 2018 I was invited by the Artists & Illustrators magazine to showcase one of my paintings (shown here) for the April 2019 issue. To this end they asked me to answer a few questions about 'my story'. Here it is below.
When did you first realise you had a passion for painting and what formal training (if any) have you undertaken in the past?
I have had a passion for painting as long as I can remember. My dad was an amateur painter and I have a photo somewhere of me ‘helping him out’ when I was about six. That was 50 years ago. I later found out that the area of painting I had worked on had been painted over!
Around this time, I asked my parents if I could have a painting-by-numbers set for my forthcoming birthday. Instead I unwrapped a pack of acrylics and sensing a mild disappointment at not having received what I was really hoping for, they said “we thought you could paint your own pictures”. I thanked them, somewhat belatedly, when I graduated with a degree in Fine Art from Newcastle University in 1986.
What do you enjoy most about the artistic process?
I enjoy all aspects of the creative process, the planning, preparation and execution, though it’s never easy. In particular, I find the point at which I leave the reference sketches and photos behind to be the most engaging stage, when a painting takes a more personal turn, when I’m feeling my way, searching for the essence of the subject that had originally inspired me.
How has art influenced your life?
Art has influenced my life profoundly. On graduation, I was determined to maintain a close association with painting, but also illustration which I had always had an interest in too. After a year or two working in an art gallery and framing workshop in Bath, I landed a job as a designer and illustrator at Loughborough University, my home town. I still work there, for a centre primarily concerned with water and sanitation in low-income countries, picking up contracts for international agencies including the World Health Organization and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Although the subject matter is very different from my painting, it is fascinating too.
Are you drawn to a specific subject in your art? If so, why is it your favourite?
Enjoying the beauty of the natural world in all seasons, I mainly turn to the landscape as a source of inspiration for my paintings. Touring Britain and Ireland over many years, from the Western Isles in Scotland to the creeks and coves of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, as well as locally, I find there are endless possibilities for painting by exploring the way in which the landscape is transformed by the fleeting effects of light and weather.
What is it you like about working with oil paint?
Although I have painted with acrylics and watercolour in the past, for some time now I have used oil paints exclusively. As oils dry more slowly they give me time to reflect and return to paintings, to blend areas of colour creatively, and to pull off areas of paint or overpaint to rework the painting where necessary.
What materials did you use to create Flooded Path with a View Towards Tarn Hows, Cumbria? Can you talk me through the process of how you created the painting?
I used water-based oil colour for this painting, a combination of Winsor & Newton’s Artisan range and Cobra water-based range which I find work well together. Mixing paint and washing brushes in water, rather than spirit, is altogether easier and it’s better for the environment. They are odourless too.
I painted this on an acrylic-primed board as I prefer a smooth surface to that of canvas. I started it as I usually do, drawing out an outline, and then colouring it in, perhaps a throwback to my childhood wish for a painting-by-numbers set!
How long did the piece take you, and what inspired you to choose this particular scene?
The painting took about three to four days, though not consecutive days as I had to wait for layers of paint to dry thoroughly before over-painting. I was drawn to the scene as the light was crisp and clear after a rain shower and the sun appeared catching the mountains in the background as well as the posts, grasses and reflections in the foreground.
In general, do you paint from life or from photos, and why? Which method did you use in this painting?
Ideally, I would paint from life but that’s difficult when you are walking or it’s raining. So I take numerous photos and sketches along the way piecing them together later in the studio with Photoshop to create the composition. Then I sketch out the composition onto the board painting loosely at first and adding definition where necessary. I let it stand for a few days and return with a fresh and critical eye before continuing, usually at this stage without referring to the sketches or photos.
Do you use any interesting tools or methods that you haven’t already shared with us, and perhaps a top tip?
Although, naturally enough I paint with brushes, I don’t limit the tools I use. I use palette knives, sponges, rags, edges of card (as I did for the longer pieces of grass in this painting), essentially whatever it takes.
As for my top tip? Well that has to be to accept fair criticism which usually comes from my wife and my eldest daughter, herself a hand-weaver with a brilliant sense of colour. More than once I have declared a painting finished to face the remark that I have “made and interesting start”! Criticism can be difficult to take sometimes, but it always leads to improvement and encourages me to pursue paintings that are personal, have integrity and life.
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