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Choosing to be an artist

Is it a choice?

I’ve been asked recently, a few times, to have students or young teenagers for work experience. This is always as much of an experience for me as I imagine it is for them, as I see my younger self reflected in their faces, and their dreams. I wonder if I had spent any serious time with an artist in my teens whether I would have taken fright at the path I was choosing!
I didn’t stumble into being an artist, it is what I wanted to do from a very young age. I knew, with out doubt, that there was no other path that would give me the same satisfaction and happiness. That is not to say it was a choice without hurdles, my art foundation year at E.C.V. in Paris was at an art school largely geared towards graphic design and advertising, and I saw that this would be a more lucrative path. Luckily, I was hopeless at graphic design, and remained on my road. I then studied at Durham University, and watched my peers go on to quickly earn decent salaries in the city, and buy houses. I wondered if I should maybe get the ‘proper job’ that my mother kept hinting at. A brief detour into portraiture taught me a huge amount (the main lesson being that I was not a portrait artist).

‘Ivy Leaping’ Oil on canvas

Why I do what I do.

I think, it was clear in my head that I was unable ‘not’ to be an artist, that being prevented from painting and drawing makes me unhappy and frustrated.  I constantly have ideas and plans buzzing around in my brain, I see inspiration in the every day routine of life, be it winter light though the hedge on the school run or watching a wildlife programme on late night TV.
I realise I am fortunate to have known what I wanted to do, and to have had the support to achieve it, but it is both a blessing and a curse. People often say to me ‘Why don’t you paint such and such?’ or ‘Why don’t you draw only charcoals?’ The answer is that I can’t. I have to stay to true to what I want to paint, to my vision as an artist. If I try to paint to please other people I feel I end up pleasing no one, and in the end my art deteriorates.

 

‘Blaze of Glory’ Charcoal on paper

Advice for artists starting out

One of the bloggers I read regularly, Making a Mark by Katherine Tyrell, posted this great link to the 2103  BP Portrait  winner Susanne du Toit’s Top Ten Tips for being an artist. They resonate with me, and I think I will pass them onto the work experience students.
The other piece of advice that I read somewhere recently was “Learn to live on less” and it struck a chord. Most artists will never earn a fortune, or get serious recognition, but they will be an artist, and that is reward in itself.

‘Up, up and away’. Charcoal on paper
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David Shepherd and Longleat.

Both works accepted into David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year

It’s a great moment when you open that long awaited email to find it starts with ‘Congratulations’. I’m delighted to say that not just one, but both works were accepted into the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year which will run from the 3rd-7th June in the Mall Galleries, London. It is an exhibition well worth visiting as it always beautifully hung, and represents the top working wildlife artists both in the UK and abroad.

Bison – charcoal on paper

The other bonus of selection into these competitions is the chance to catch up with so many colleagues at once. Painting, unless you’re based in a shared studio complex, is essentially a very solitary career, so the opportunity to attend a large gathering of artists is always a real treat. I know  Karen Laurence-Rowe has been accepted, and look forward to meeting her. I’m also pleased to see that Davina Bosanquet has asked to be one of the guest artists, after winning her category two years running. It’s the week before my solo exhibition opens with Oil & Water in London, so June will be a busy month!

Longleat

I was immensely honoured to be given access to the animals at Longleat Safari Park last week, going out with a keeper to see them being fed, and took many hundreds of photos. The staff there could not have been more accommodating, and their knowledge and understanding of their animals was extraordinary. I manage to obtain enough source material to keep me going for many months.

 



Tiger, Longleat

I have always wanted to do more wildlife painting, but have struggled to find animals to work from, normal zoo exhibits are either asleep or look so bored and spending several weeks a year photographing them in Africa isn’t really an option with two small children. The Longleat animals, in their vast acreage of paddocks, were incredibly fit, and very lively! A huge thanks to everyone who enabled my trip.

 

Male lion, Longleat