Art and Science – Painter and Biologist Tracey Unwin in the Spotlight

By in Interviews


See more of Tracey’s work at

Being an artist

Please give us a few words of introduction about yourself


I’ve been painting now for about five years, since leaving university where I studied zoology. I was never particularly artistic as a child, being more into creative writing than anything else, but now I think about painting all the time. For the last year or so I’ve dedicated myself to art and writing.

Edge of the Aegean (October)


How and when did you start out as an artist?


When I was about twenty-six (five years ago) I ‘accidentally’ brought a painting on ebay. It was really beautiful, featuring semi-abstract, impasto style poppies and I felt quite inspired by it. I had no space on my walls so ended up selling to someone in America at a loss. But I realised that perhaps I could sell paintings of my own – and maybe break-even!

What training did you have?


None – I took drama at GCSE and real egg-head subjects at A-Level. I’ve always been very creative generally, though.

What has been your best creative achievement so far?


Well, I once had a poem published in an anthology, which was quite nice. Painting-wise, when I was still quite new to it, I spent a week slaving over a collage and then sold it within a day for £250. This was my first ‘big’ sale and I couldn’t believe someone had paid money for my prittstick efforts!

General Questions

Who is your favourite artist?


Classically, I love Turner. I know lots of people say that but his use of light and colour is just so mesmerising. There are probably lots of modern artists that I don’t know, but I did see the installation ‘Palm Sunday’ by Anselm Keifer in the Tate Modern a few years ago. It was all natural materials and earthy colours – e.g palm leaves, terracotta. It really inspired me.

The City Above by Tracey Unwin


What are you aiming for?


I’d like to become a recognised artist, but more importantly a successful conservation biologist. I’ve always wanted to ‘save’ species and habitats.

How will you get there?


I’ve recently completed various courses and sea survival certification and hope to begin working as a marine mammal observer very soon. I also need to grow in confidence, do more voluntary work and work harder at becoming employed by a large conservation organisation.

Is anything holding you back?



You and art

What sort of reactions do you get to your work? are you ever surprised?


Reactions tend to be very positive. I’m always surprised when someone raves about something I didn’t think was particularly good, and vice versa. Not everyone is interested in art, but because I have got a big range of styles I can normally find something that would appeal to them.

From start to finish, how long does it take for you to create your work?


It really varies – it can be as little as ten minutes. People don’t believe me when I say this, and have to demonstrate! (Although of course then it goes wrong). I like to just slap it all on and go with my instincts. Other pieces may take about a week, usually if a lot of drawing is needed. I can’t really draw.

The Water Tower


What music do you like to listen to when you work?


Depends on my frame of mind – if I’m doing something slow and careful then maybe some classical, or general chill-out music. If I doing a big, energetic project that involves a lot of mess and scampering around the canvas, then the music will normally be something with a lot of pep, such as Creedence Clearwater or Imelda May.

What is next in the pipeline for you? Any new directions or shows coming up?


I’m hoping to start taking part in a regular London artmarket, from this month. I’ve also recently joined the local arts society and done one exhibition with them – hopefully there’ll be more. A couple of London cafe’s might be putting some of my pieces up. Otherwise, I need to concentrate harder on getting the conservation contracts.

Being inspired by art

Who (living or dead) inspires you? and why?


French impressionists, generally. And Anselm Keifer.

What feelings, subjects or concepts inspire you as an artist?


I think my approach to art is fairly aesthetic – it doesn’t necessarily come from ‘deep within’ although that sometimes factors. I like really strong contrasts of colour and light – anything that gives a powerful sense of atmosphere. I do like to incorporate nature as much as possible as it’s so close to my heart.

What is your favourite work that you’ve produced so far and why?


Probably a little series I’ve done that was influenced by the film ‘Stand By Me’ – so a brooding blue sky over a wheatfield with a water tower, tree swing etc. I’m also feeling very enthusiastic about my recent abstract cityscapes ‘The City Above’ and ‘Edge of the Aegean’, as this is the kind of thing that I’d like to get really, really good at, and I feel I’ve made a bit of a start.

an artist’s advice

Have you got any advice for those starting out as an artist?


Study as many different paintings as possible – online sites make great browsing. Observe how certain effects have been acheived and notice what works and what doesn’t. You’ll find these little nuggets of learning creep in as you work.

Rain on the River by Tracey Unwin

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