I understand you are a professional artist. How did you get your start in this profession?
As a child growing up in the UK, drawing and painting were always my favorite things to do. When it came time to decide what to study at college, though, I chose English literature and art history imagining that I would either work as an English professor or as a curator in a museum. After graduating from Glasgow University in Scotland, I moved to NYC to be with my then fiancé, Stephen (now my husband and a philosophy professor) and I had to decide which direction to take. I had missed drawing and painting during my college years and thought I would enroll in some sketch classes while I figured things out.
I had heard about the Art Students League and thought it would be a good fit for me. My first class there was a life drawing class taught by a wonderful artist, Peter Cox. In his class, I learned about the structure of the human figure and the basic principles of perception such as tonal value, perspective and proportion – lessons that have been so important in my progression as an artist. I also studied oil painting from the figure with Ron Sherr and Marybeth McKenzie. While juggling various part-time jobs, I ended up being a full-time student at the League for four years. I loved every minute of my time there and along the way realized that I wanted to make painting my career.
What is it about painting that attracts you?
When I first started oil painting, I just wanted to render faithfully in paint what I saw before me. Then I began to enjoy the medium itself and the technical aspects of putting paint on canvas; thinking about things like color and values. When I’m painting, all I’m thinking about is how to make the composition work. My train of thought is quite technical and I love being able to immerse myself completely in the subject for several hours at a time. As a mom with young children, there are so many cares crowding my head that it’s lovely to be able to push these aside and focus on something completely different!
When did you start painting in watercolor?
My uncle, Jim Manley, is a successful artist in Northern Ireland who paints primarily in watercolor and he had always suggested I try it, so it had been at the back of my mind for a while. We lived in Providence, RI for a year and I took a watercolor class at RISD and loved it. I found it very difficult at first (so different from oil!) but liked the way it felt and I knew I would try to get to grips with it one day.
A few years later we moved to Missoula, Montana and for the first time in my life I was tempted to paint landscapes. The thing I wanted to capture the most was the changing light on the mountains and the beautiful mist. It made sense to me to try watercolor since it is in itself so elemental. I don’t really think I succeeded in producing good watercolors of the Rockies, but it was a good place to start. I began to love the medium and painting landscapes and some of my fondest memories are of hiking up Mount Sentinel with my watercolors to paint the breathtaking views.
How do you decide what to paint?
I love living in Larchmont, because I feel I’ll never run out of things to paint! Our coastline looks different in all seasons and in all weathers, at different times of day, at low and high tide. Sometimes it’s the quality of light that inspires me to paint a certain scene, sometimes it’s a stormy sky or the reflection of grasses in a pool of water. Right now I’m inspired to paint the beach all the time, because I’m there a lot with my children and it always looks so picturesque.
What new directions are you exploring lately?
I’ve recently come back to drawing and painting the figure and I’d like to start including more figures in my landscapes. One of my favorite things is life drawing and I’d like to start doing this with watercolor and see where it takes me. I’d also like to paint more interior scenes of my family life. I’d like to continue painting when I travel and at some point this year, start painting with oils again.
Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Sargent is and always will be my biggest inspiration as a watercolor painter. His watercolors are so fresh and full of life and his compositions are always so strong. When I saw his watercolors in real life at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this year, they took my breath away. The show inspired me to be more daring with color and to be looser and more painterly.
How long have you been exhibiting at the Larchmont Arts Festival and how has it helped your career?
Last year was my first year. My career had been on a back burner while I was looking after my children. When my youngest daughter started kindergarten last year, my goal was to have enough paintings to show at the arts festival, so it really kick-started my career again. I loved the feeling of camaraderie between the artists and it made me realize that we have a wonderful arts community here of which I am proud to be a part.
What advice would you give aspiring painters?
I would say, get as much instruction as you can. You really have to train your hand and eye as a painter and it helps enormously to be taught different techniques and ways of looking at things. Go to art galleries and museums as much as you can and try to figure out the kind of paintings you gravitate towards – these will always inspire you and help you decide what kind of painter you want to become. Try life drawing because it helps with everything and painting outdoors because it’s so much fun!