Being an artist
Please give us a few words of introduction about yourself…
I am 84. Born and brought up in tiny village on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. My father was the village blacksmith, and I had three sisters. I went to a village school, with 14 pupils from 5 to 14, and one teacher!
When did you decide to pursue art as a career?
I got a scholarship to Scarborough school of art at 14, and lodged during the week in Scarborough. We did two years doing maths, English etc. in the mornings and afternoons, and five evening classes of design, sculpture, crafts and pottery. Then, if judged ok, we spent the next two years studying for the intermediary exam, which included life drawing, still life, anatomy, perspective architecture sculpture and one craft, mine being textiles design. This was followed by specialising in Textiles for two years. The presumption was that one went on to teach art, but that had no appeal to me. There was one big department store in Scarborough, and that had just opened an interior design department within the shop. I got the job of advising customers on colours for wallpaper etc. and doing quick sketches to show how rooms could be transformed by use of colour. But there was little call for any of this as it was still in the days when beige was the only colour for walls, and anyway I wasn’t trained to do the type of commercial type sketch that was wanted. So I went to work in Heals in London, which in early 50’s was a forerunner of “contemporary” design in fabrics, furniture etc. I felt at home there, and quite quickly became their exhibitions designer.
After living in Cornwall in early 1960’s I left my husband and with my small daughter came to live in Brighton. I continued with freelance work but having to be away from home quite frequently doing show houses was too difficult. So I trained as a social worker, and later trained as a Jungian Psychotherapist, which I did until I retired at 72. A couple of years before that I had attended a few classes to see if I still enjoyed drawing, and I began to feel quite excited about being free to wander on the Downs and cliffs and beaches and spend as long as I wanted to, trying to capture their magic. Indeed, retirement has been wonderful for me, but I don’t feel the same about old age – illnesss loss of memory, hearing aids etc etc.
What has been the high point of your creative career so far?
I guess it was doing this quite prestigious job in Heals, but I married and went to live in Eastbourne, and couldn’t cope with working often late into the evenings (there were very few trains then). So I opened my own shop there, selling well-designed modern furniture, Swedish glass and Finnish cutlery etc. I also did alot of interior design work for the big hotels there supplying the goods as well. I also started doing freelance work for Ideal Home magazine, doing show-houses all over the country. This was the second highlight I suppose. My husband’s work took him to Cornwall, so after very few years we had to sell the shop.
What’s your favourite quote?
Currently — “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the “master ” calls the butterfly”
Do you have a favourite artist? What do you like about their work?
No, but I do love the Sussex artists of the ’20s and ’30s who simplified landscape painting, but retained the beauty and atmosphere of the scene. John Piper, Eric Revilious amongst others come to mind.
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?
I would like my landscapes to encourage people to be more observant and appreciative of what they walk past as they walk on the Downs or cliffs. To notice the colours and patterns of say the tree trunks, the patterns and contrasts of the lights and darks.
And when they look at my portraits, to be more observant of what makes a face pretty, or beautiful or sad or ugly. I was recently very surprised when I showed my neighbour my finished portrait of her mother (who had recently died) and she burst into tears saying “oh, its my mum.” Her mum was old but I thought she was beautiful.
What mediums do you prefer to work in, and why?
Water-colour, acrylic and charcoal. As much as I love colour I think my best work is in black and white, because of my very thorough training in art! I find it almost impossible to “loosen up,” and I wish I could. Working in charcoal helps me to cut out some detail and to go for what I think I am best at, i.e. the the overall design, the contrasts of dark and light, the pattern of the whole piece of work, but especially the atmosphere.
From start to finish, how long does it take for you to create your work?
I always paint at the scene I am trying to capture. Then I dont mind if it is hanging on my wall maybe weeks, for only then just by catching sight of it now and again do I see things which could be improved, or I see that it isn’t saying what I wanted it to say, so I try to rectify. I usually will have to go back to the site of my picture with all my clobber many times, maybe eight or so.
What music do you like to listen to when you work?
I never listen to music when painting, nor can I work with a friend if they talk all the time. I need to be free to think about why I am trying to capture some view, or when at home I need to try and recapture the excitement I had felt at the time I was outside at the scene.
Being inspired by art
What feelings, subjects or concepts inspire you as an artist? Is there a particular place that inspires you?
I think my first sense of beauty was as a young child sitting on our swing, which was attached to a huge sycamore tree, and as I went endlessly backwards and forwards, looking up and seeing the beautiful pattern of the leaves dark green, against a strong blue sky. No wonder I chose to do textile design at art school! And yes, we did have some sunshine and blue skies in Yorkshire! Now, it will be seeing a coming together of colour, pattern, the drama of darks and lights, and importantly the atmosphere, and perhaps the story this tells, just a moment in time.
What is your favourite work that you’ve produced so far and why?
The one I have just done, I think. Last year I had major cancer op. I am well again, but have found it almost impossible to get started in painting again. A friend asked me to do a commission for him a few weeks ago. He does voluntary gardening work in a derelict church yard and has fallen in love with the place. It was only after I had finished it that it dawned on me that he was really only asking me to do this in order to get me starting again. And it did. And I fell in love with the drama of a glimpse of bright sunlight seen beyond a magnificent old, dark tree, with gravestones literally everywhere, often half fallen over. It’s in charcoal.
An artist’s advice
Any tips on how to get your work seen, and to start getting commissions?
I still have to find out! But I think one has to take risks, such as showing in Open Houses etc.