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Spotlight interview with painter Margaret Denholm

By in Interviews


In this artist interview, Margaret Denholm shares with us her artistic process, ideas, and inspiration. To see more of Margaret’s work, please visit her online gallery.

Island retreat | Photo by Margaret Denholm

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Being an artist

Please give us a few words of introduction about yourself.

I have lived in the Central Belt of Scotland all of my life but just love to spend time on the west coast — particularly Argyll and the Islands where the beautiful beaches are an endless inspiration. Although I don’t live by the sea, it is only a short drive to either the east or west coast. I cannot imagine living in the centre of a huge landmass without easy access to the sea or ocean.

When did you decide to pursue art as a career?

I never actively decided to pursue art as a career; it was a hobby which took legs. As a teenager I enjoyed painting and sketching, but once married with a home and family to look after, art was forgotten. As a family we spent a lot of time walking in the Scottish countryside and caravanning in Ayrshire, another part of the country that is very dear to me.

What training did you have?

Around ten years ago I decided to take up painting again and found I couldn’t put the brush down. I was well and truly hooked. I attended a couple of classes locally but found I wasn’t learning anything so I carried on in my own style. I joined a local art club and still look forward to the weekly chat and tea, not to mention the inspiration.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

Every time someone purchases a piece of my work I am on a high. It gives me great pleasure to know that pieces of my work are adorning the walls of people not only in my home country but all over the world. Recently I entered an art competition run in conjunction with a prestigious exhibition in aid of Beatson Cancer Charity. The curator of the exhibition selected my work to be hung in the main exhibition alongside Scotland’s leading artists, including Peter Howson and Gerard M Burns. My work sold and the curator has invited me to show more work at future exhibitions.

Bowl of poppies | Photo by Margaret Denholm

General questions

What’s your favourite quote?

My favourite quotes are pieces from poems: ‘I must go down to the seas again’ from Sea Fever by John Masefield and ‘My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea’ from Secret of the Sea by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Who is your favourite artist?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one since I like an eclectic mix of artists and styles. I love the tranquillity of Monet’s work and the vibrant colour and crooked houses of Scottish artist John Lowrie Morrison’s (Jolomo). And then there’s Alexander Millar — his characters really make me smile. I also have to mention Jeff Rowland, whose romantic paintings are so evocative.

What are you aiming for?

I have no unrealistic ambitions, but I want to continue creating art. It makes me happy and it keeps my followers happy. Like most artists I know, I’d like to be a household name.

How will you get there?

I’ll probably keep doing what I am doing. Although I would like to be better known, I will continue to paint what I like, when I like, which is most of the time. It’s passion that drives me and I believe that shows in my work. As long as I have the passion I will keep painting.

Is anything holding you back?

I spend most of my time painting, after all, as I said, that is my passion. To be more commercially successful I believe time has to be spent on the admin side of things: updating my website, using social media, entering competitions and exhibitions, but all of those things require time and that would be less time to paint.

Mist over the small isles | Photo by Margaret Denholm

You and art

What feelings or reactions do you hope to arouse in people who view your work? Are you ever surprised by reactions that you get?

Paintings tend to evoke emotions in much the same way as music. I love when people want a particular painting because it reminds them of happy times when they visited a particular place or where they spent childhood holidays.

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

Aha! The age-old question. I have been asked this question probably as often as I have produced a painting. With few exceptions I have never really had an answer. Sometimes I stand at my easel and keep going for a few hours and hey presto! — there’s the finished work. Other times I will do so much and leave it to dry before returning to it.

On some occasions I start with a particular composition or seascape in mind; other times I start with certain colours and see where it takes me. Quite often it’s a stormy sky which I develop into something more detailed. I seldom notice how much time passes when I am engrossed.

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

Music is an essential tool when I am painting! Not the radio as background noise but something to suit my mood and the mood of the painting developing in front of me. Very often when I am painting a tranquil beach I will have soft soothing classical or opera. Then again, Rod Stewart and Paolo Nutini are likely to be playing when I’m painting rough seas and skies with really vibrant colours.

What are you working on next? Any future plans or projects in the pipeline that we should look out for?

Seascapes, seascapes, and more seascapes — mainly Scottish, although once in a while I like to paint something from my holidays in Lanzarote. However, even ‘scape’ artists occasionally veer to something completely different and I sometimes do floral still life, albeit in a very loose style. That said, Scotland is full of inspiration; the continuously changing weather and light creates so many different scenes that I’m sure I’ll never go short.

Benbecula in winter light | Photo by Margaret Denholm

Being inspired by art

Who (living or dead) inspires you? Why?

When I first started to paint, I was influenced by the colours used by Pam Carter and Jolomo. However, I quickly realised that the best way forward was to let my own style develop. As much as I love vibrant colours, I tend to use them in a limited palette.

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

At the risk of repeating myself I am heavily influenced by the sea and the weather. The stormier, the better, as it provides scope for my imagination to run riot. I recently completed a painting that started out as a city skyline but then developed to a point where there was a rural scene floating above. I called it Urban Life and Rural Dreams in recognition of those who live in cities but yearn for the country — probably subconsciously thinking about myself.

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

I think my most recent painting is always my favourite until the next one comes along. However, I was commissioned to do a painting of a Scottish mountain: An Teallach. Not being a mountaineer I had to make do with photos provided by the buyer and therefore was a bit apprehensive. Happily though he was delighted with it. I actually painted it twice to offer a choice so there is still another gracing my dining room at present.

An Teallach | Photo by Margaret Denholm

An artist’s advice

For those thinking about turning a passion for art into a career, could you give any advice?

Follow your passion — it will show in your work.

Any tips on how to get your work seen and get the commissions coming in?

I’m still working on that one myself. As I have said before it takes time to do the admin — maybe you have someone else to do that bit though and free up the time to paint!

About The Author

Adriana Paradiso

Adriana is a professionally trained editor and French–English translator of web articles, print books, and even the odd comedy sketch. She's worked across a number of industries, including arts, travel, and health. She lives in Toronto with her husband, several overflowing bookshelves, and her prized board game collection.

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