How I started painting
Updated: Mar 8
7th March 2021
It was never really part of the plan to be an artist. As a child I was always creative, and spent hours drawing, painting, and making necklaces with plastic beads. I was always into Art at school but never really shined; I went on to take Art at GSCE and A Level but by no means considered taking it further.
Geography was easily my best subject throughout school. I imagine my dad’s career as a Geography teacher played a large role in this, as growing up I always had a strong awareness of the natural surroundings. It came as a natural decision to gain a degree in BSc Geography, and I can’t say I ever gave art school a second thought.
I’d often intertwine my love of Geography with my Art coursework themes at school; one project title we were given was ‘Rock Formations’. I was, and still am, keen about Geology and so spent many an hour photographing eroded cliffs at the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs down the road, and painting them in oils. I always reached for oils first from the off, preferring them, and sometimes biro or graphite drawings, to any other medium. I’d take photographs of landscapes and views on holidays and try and crowbar them into each coursework project I did, whether or not they were relevant to the title. I struggled to theme work around a particular title or concept, and preferred to just focus on what I enjoyed. I was lucky to have inspiring and encouraging art teachers, and landscape paintings became my strong point.
After 4 years of Art in my curriculum at school, I left for Exeter University, and temporarily and unintentionally stopped painting. I found my degree interesting and exciting, at times confusing, and always challenging. I loved learning about Paleosciences and the records of climatic changes in the environment, or in other words, getting enthusiastically covered in mud extracting cores from peat bogs, and later chopping them up in the labs. I found my dissertation particularly challenging, but more so rewarding. I was very relieved to submit my final dissertation and vowed then, that whatever future career path I might take, it wouldn’t involve any statistical analysis or coding.
I often dipped back into drawing while I was at university, but rarely drew the Devon landscapes around me. I tended to just draw for a distraction from deadlines and lectures, but didn’t particularly miss the amount of Art I had done at school.
It wasn’t until I graduated, and decided to take a year out to figure out what I wanted to do, that I dug out my paints again. I graduated very unsure of what career to begin, and felt thrown by the changes.
So I returned to painting in the summer that I came home from university. It was a helpful distraction, and I was surrounded by the beautiful South Downs near my home, and so had no shortage of inspiration. The first painting I did was of the Jack and Jill windmills. (Years later I discovered my mother painted the exact same view, at the same age I had been; I hadn’t known she too could paint).
At that point I was painting because I enjoyed it, and had little concern over the quality and standard of the paintings I was producing. That September I discovered the painting genius Bob Ross and was spellbound by his TV painting show. I went straight into painting similar scenes to the ones he used to produce and continually practiced oil painting techniques such as ‘wet on wet’, and thin paint sticking to thicker paint, all unknown and foreign concepts to me.
I always used to be frustrated as a child that whatever I drew or painted wasn’t realistic. Anything from shoes to cartoon characters to people. My dad has a knack for technical drawing, as well as beautiful geographical diagrams and field sketches; how he used to do these on school whiteboards with fat felt tip markers I don’t know. I used to be baffled during Art lessons at school when the teacher would encourage us to ‘look for the negative space’ between a vase and a pear on the table that we were supposed to be drawing. My obscure depictions always had issues with sizing and perspective.
When I saw Bob Ross painting I was drawn into the care free way he created his masterpieces. I learnt to just practice practice practice. I got better at noticing what went wrong with my paintings, and saw where my weaknesses were. I learnt to sketch out each painting and take the time to get the perspective correct. I improved in my ability to use and manipulate oil paint. In time my paintings grew a little stronger, and I started painting more South Downs views.
It wasn’t until somebody said “I’d buy that” that I considered ever exhibiting in art galleries. At the time I had a job waitressing, and spent most of each shift day-dreaming about being out on the Downs, with views for miles, taking pictures of the onset of Spring to paint. With apprehension, I left my job and built up a little portfolio of paintings of the Downs, and researched some Sussex art galleries. I joined Gallery 92, a lovely local art gallery that I was really excited to be part of. At that point I had many a doubt about my work; for one thing I was oblivious that I had developed a style. After a couple of months I sold my first painting, and was delighted.
I tend to paint the Downs how I see them, rather as how they actually are; this involves bright saturated colours and usually big blue skies. I remember my mum and I driving the length of the county it seemed in search of a poppy field when June arrived that year, so that I could practice painting poppies.
Having never been to art school, and having had no experience with art galleries or selling artwork before, I had a lot to learn. I still do. I had a constant list of questions and didn’t know where to start with most things. In time I had cards and prints made of my paintings, and learnt the pros and cons of different paper types and the importance of photographing your work properly. Thankfully my uncle has experience with producing and framing prints and he was there to offer criticism and advice. I wanted to make a website, and the first Covid-19 lockdown was a perfect time start making one. I found a wonderful framer in Brighton, and started working part time at Gallery 92. I had also started displaying some prints and cards at Alfriston Arts gallery. This was a special achievement for me, as I had visited the gallery as a teenager and marvelled at the work on display.
By the time the pandemic hit, I found I was using my spare time more and more to focus on improving my painting. I had a little garden studio that I loved spending time in. When I started displaying in galleries after university, I soon realised that painting at the kitchen table wasn’t a sustainable fix for the future; I needed somewhere where family members wouldn’t wonder in half way though a tough painting and make suggestions, only some of which tended to be helpful!
My Nanna lived nearby and I asked her if she didn’t mind me using her old summer house in her garden; she kindly agreed. With a lot of help from my parents, we re-decorated it. I loved driving over there, painting in the sun, and seeing my Nanna every day. Without her support, encouragement, and regular cups of tea, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. When she died suddenly and unexpectedly at the beginning of 2020, it took me a while to get back into painting there. By the Spring I had settled back into a routine of sorts, and strangely, some of my best and favourite work was produced that summer, when I had a new determination to improve and do her proud. She’s very much a constant inspiration of mine to this day. I started taking on commissions; firstly mainly from friends and family, but in time I started getting more requests from others too.
And so now into 2021, I’ve continued painting, and displaying in galleries, and love it. I feel very lucky that I spend to much time painting, and working on projects for myself; I try to never take it for granted, and thank everyone who has helped me. In particular my wonderfully supportive family who never once asked when I was going to get a ‘proper job’, and have been there all the way to help me with my doubts and decisions.
I haven’t forgotten my love of Geography, and enjoyed volunteer work in the interval between graduating and Covid-19. I think that having an understanding of the physical processes at work on the scarp slopes and chalk hills really helps me in my portrayal of the Downs and their character. I love painting the changing seasons, and in particular my favourite views, both from home and further afield. I’m really excited to keep practicing painting and learning and improving!
Thanks for reading,