Hello Stephen! Thank you for giving up your time today. Would you be able to tell us a bit about how you first became an artist?
My background has been in graphic design and advertising, which overlapped into illustration, and I think that prompted me to think about painting. About twenty years ago, I had my first Art Weeks exhibition in my home studio. That was quite a big stepping stone for me because I hadn’t done anything quite like that before. I think, in a way, you are baring your soul when you exhibit your work. You’re standing up, putting your work up, and you could well get some criticism, so for some artists it is quite a challenge, quite a step to do that. I’d been painting two or three years before my first exhibition, so I felt that I was beginning to get a collection of work together, and I just needed something, a platform in order to show that work and get myself started. My expectation wasn’t very high, I have to say, but I knew that once I’d signed up for it then I would produce the necessary amount of work. I think it’s always quite pleasing when you have a show but I think the most satisfying thing is when people come along, come out of their way to see your work and that they’re maybe prepared to part with their good money and buy a piece. That is quite rewarding.
What inspires your art style at the moment?
There’s a particularly attractive walk from here over to Sutton Courtenay where you go across the river and over the weirs and it’s a circular walk and I’ve always been interested in that, particularly through the seasons - it’s never quite the same. I do those paintings and it is not a literal interpretation of what I see when I walk round, it’s very much a mood and a sense of what I’m looking at or what I’m feeling. I would say they’re more expressive, than, for instance, a traditional watercolour picture.
In the last three or four years, maybe longer, I’ve really tried to develop a style, something that I feel attached to and involved with, and I think you can see an insight of that in the piece I’ve got in an exhibition at Woodstock at the moment, ‘When I leave’. When I Leave is just two colours; black and Prussian blue. The two postcards I’ve submitted, again are of a limited palette. One is two colours and the other is two, maybe three maximum. You almost have to work harder - it’s almost like being in a sweet shop. When you’re in a sweet shop, it’s just easy to choose everything, but when you’re working with one, two, three colours maximum, you’ve really got to think your way through as how to maximise that and make them work.
It is a developing process, as an artist, I don’t think you should be standing still, you need to keep moving and thinking forward.
Absolutely. It can be difficult to maintain that kind of momentum though. How do you stay motivated as an artist?
I’ve got the ideas, I’m looking at the sketches in front of me now on my drawing board. Sometimes paintings don’t always work. Rather than scrapping the painting I cut out areas that I think have been successful and stick them in my sketchbooks along with some notes. The pages act as an aide memoire for future work. I think sometimes people think that artists always have successful work, but it’s not true. It’s partly because they’re not happy with what they’ve done, or they’re just striving for a higher standard. There’s something that they produce that they’re not happy with. I tend to know instinctively early on whether something’s going to work and if I don’t think it will work, I will recycle it to my sketchbooks. I am quite ruthless!
I think what’s important for me is that I don’t stand still. I make a point of always stretching water colour paper, I stretch it so it goes really tight, and I’ve always got that on a board on my drawing board, so there is no excuse for me to say ‘Oh well, I haven’t got any paper stretched I can’t do anything’. I know that if I stop, I’ll find it very difficult to get going again, because I don’t do this full time, so I need to keep that wheel turning and I like to be able to mix it up. My Lovely Postcards was a perfect opportunity for me to contribute and do something, and also do something different, and I do get some satisfaction out of knowing that they will be up in an exhibition and hopefully they will sell!
It’s great to hear that you’ve found My Lovely Postcards useful to you as an artist and that you’ve enjoyed taking part.
I have really enjoyed taking part in My Lovely Postcards. I am really looking forward to the exhibition at Cloisters Gallery in November, and I am sure there will be a lot of work contributed. I think that its strength will be its diversity because there will be so many different artists with such a different approach, and because the subject matter is very open to whatever you want to do, I think it will be a really good show, so I’m looking forward to that.
Thank you so much for talking with us Stephen! If you’re interested in finding out more about Stephen’s work, do visit his website here.