The project’s aim was to make contact with and learn about a real working Welsh artist and the children were so inspired by Chloe’s original and unusual style that they chose her work. The assignment’s objective was to encourage the children to think of different questions to ask the artist and then to produce their own work inspired by Chloe’s style.
The questions that the Year 7 pupils asked were very inventive; they wanted to know lots of different things about Chloe’s work from ‘How old were you when you became an artist?’ to ‘Do you travel across Wales to make your paintings or do you paint from photographs?’ and ‘Do you have any tips for us?’.
Chloe said that she thought this was an inventive yet grounded way to study art at school. So often children are only introduced to paintings from old Masters, such as Stubbs, Monet or Picasso, which is important for learning about art history but not necessarily helpful or relevant to children who might think that becoming an artist is an unrealistic dream. Being able to ask questions and learn from a real, living artist that is local and pertinent to their own communities encourages children to believe that they too can become artists. Chloe said ‘I was thrilled that the children chose my work to inspire their own paintings. It is an honour and I absolutely love the photos of their work. It is fantastic, they should be very proud of themselves! I hope that they all carry on enjoying and developing their creative skills’.
The Questions & Answers
How old were you when you became an artist?
I started painting again about 4 years ago after my mother’s death & became officially registered as a self-employed artist 3 years ago when I was 46. I didn’t plan to ‘become an artist’ as such, I just felt the need to paint & other people seemed to like what I was doing so I carried on painting. It just goes to show it’s never too late to change the direction of your life! Previously, I had worked in the Civil Service & at Manchester University, moving to Wales 14 years ago. I hadn’t really done any painting since I was at school in the late 1980’s. I did attend art college though; specializing in textiles. When I left, I got a job & forgot about art.
What inspires your artwork?
Mainly my work is inspired by the beautiful Welsh countryside. I love to portray the local flora & fauna along with the stunning scenery. I am also very interested in Welsh myths & legends; some stories one would assume were mere myths such as an elephant being buried behind the Talbot Hotel in Tregaron. However, there was actually an elephant in Tregaron when a Victorian circus travelled around the area. Sadly, the elephant died from lead poisoning when the circus got there – local water supplies were all heavily polluted at this time. S4C have made a film about the unusual visitors called ‘Y Syrcas/The Circus’. There is also a photo in the Ceredigion Museum of elephants paddling in the sea at Aberystwyth.
With such a wealth of local myths to call upon (such as the story of the red & white dragons depicted in ‘Dwy Ddraig, Castell Llansteffan/Two Dragons, Llansteffan Castle’ or my ‘Clever lady’ Devil’s Bridge’ painting & the Welsh dragon in ‘Saving the girl’ Castell Coch), there is always something going on in my painting apart from the lovely Welsh landscape. I also enjoy accentuating the plough lines in fields, playing with pattern & colour as well as ignoring the rules of perspective so sometimes the flowers are bigger than the animals.
I must admit that I didn’t realise this when I started to paint again, but the way I construct landscapes is as a textile artist would rather than a painter. It was much later when it dawned on me that I paint scenery so that it looks like pieces of fabric next to each other giving the impression of a patchwork quilt. A love of textiles really is evident in my work even if started out subconsciously.
What equipment and materials do you use to make your paintings?
I always use good quality watercolour paper (aprox140 lbs/300 g/m per square meter). Before I start painting, I stretch the paper & let it dry out again before I pick up my pencil. The first step when stretching paper is to wet the watercolour paper thoroughly & then place it onto a suitable piece of hardboard or something similar. Once the paper is placed on the board then secure all four sides with picture framing tape or something similar that will keep the paper securely attached. If this isn’t done, then the painting is likely to be ‘wavy’ from getting wet & drying out again. Not only can this spoil the painting, it makes it rather tricky to frame. If I didn’t stretch the paper first it would be a problem for me as I generally paint most areas of a picture at least twice. This gives an intense depth of colour not often found in watercolour painting.
I also use reasonable quality watercolour paints as the pigments are brighter & last longer than the cheaper brands. I use a 2b pencil to do most of the drawing/planning before I start painting & always have an eraser to hand! I have a selection of small brushes but don’t worry too much about being precious with them as they are often replaced. The fine tips end up scruffy quickly anyway & it is important to have a clean neat edge. I also use a fineliner pen to emphasize some edges. Another useful product is liquid masking fluid. This is great when there’s an area I wish to preserve (such as a dog etc.) but want to do something like have a splattered paint effect around the dog. Masking fluid is great for creating effects, paint over the dog with the masking fluid, let it dry & then have fun splattering around & over the masked area. When the whole area is dry simply peel it off the dried masking fluid.
How much do your paintings cost?
This is a bit like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Original paintings start from around £175 for an A4 size when purchased directly from me. Paintings in shops & galleries are always more expensive as the artist must pay commission to the shop/gallery on their sales. This is usually between 30 & 45 %, so it does add quite a lot to the price. Commissions can be a little more (approx. £200 for an A4) as I don’t make cards or prints made from these, so I don’t earn any money with future sales from a commission.
How long does it take you to complete each painting?
The amount of money I earn for each painting may sound good but when one considers the amount of time I spend on each painting the pay is extremely poor. An A4 painting will usually take me about a week to paint, approx. 40 hours. The bigger the painting, the longer it takes. Some of the more complicated larger pieces take weeks to complete. On average I earn far less than the minimum wage for my work. It may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t when you think that I earn about £3 an hour. I do know some artists that only spend a day or two on each painting, so they earn far more than me proportionally.
Do you travel across Wales to make your paintings or do you paint from photographs?
I do travel across Wales looking for inspiration although I don’t paint outside often. I take photos while we’re out & about for future reference. I’ve also used other people’s photos if I’ve found them particularly inspiring as a backdrop, but one should always ask permission before doing this as they own the copyright of their image.
What do you do if you make a mistake on your painting?
It is not always a disaster when you make a mistake in a painting. Sometimes it can inspire something completely new, a different way of looking at what you’re trying to paint. If I’ve made a mistake at the drawing stage, then it’s easy to fix – just try not to press on the paper too hard until you’re sure you like what you’ve drawn or else you can always see the rubbed-out line! When I realise I’ve made a mistake & it’s already painted then I VERY carefully blot out the affected area with damp kitchen roll to remove the paint, wait for it dry & then re-do the wrong bit. It’s easy to scuff up the paper when its wet so be careful. I spend a long time doing the initial drawing to try & avoid doing this.
What other artists inspire you?
As children we were often taken to Museums & Art Galleries in Birmingham, Manchester & London. I’ve always loved the work of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – there are a lot of them in the Manchester & Birmingham galleries. I know it’s not very fashionable these days, but I love the story-telling aspects of their work as well as the luxurious fabrics & impeccable attention to detail such as plants, flowers etc. I also like the work of Austrian painter Kustav Klimt. I love his use of pattern along with ‘normal’ representations of people etc. so there’s a face in amongst gold swirls etc. Many artists would agree that with the advent of photography totally representational art is dead. What need is there for painting that looks exactly like a photo? This is why I love to play with pattern & colour so much in my work. I also admire the work of Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudi. We recently went to Barcelona & saw a lot of his architecture there; it was so inspiring! The use of colour & shape is amazing.
Do you have a “normal job” as well as being an artist?
I don’t have another job apart from painting. This is because I am lucky enough to have a husband who supports my desire to paint rather than earning money. However, this might change before too long as I would definitely be better off with a part time job in a shop than painting full time! I know a lot of other artists that do have part-time jobs to help pay the bills. I don’t think that many of them paint because they think they’re going to make a fortune, it’s more of a desire to create something beautiful.
Do you have any tips for us with our artwork?
For me, painting is about having fun. Everyone can do something, it doesn’t have to be technically brilliant to be good. Anyone can produce art even if it’s colouring in a doodle. Some of the bits I enjoy the most when I’m working is simply painting stripes, everyone can do that! The main thing is not to be afraid of using paint, going over the lines etc. & practice as much as possible. And do have fun with colour: I like to deliberately pick colours that clash – like red & green or purple & yellow. I am also not too worried about any particular aspect of each painting being perfect, it’s about evoking an atmosphere.
One final tip, I always plan the drawing first in pencil & start painting from the top down. I instinctively want to start painting in the middle of the page but if you do that you end up brushing your arm all over it & can mess up the paint or rub out the drawing so start from the top of the picture & work down from left to right – unless you’re left handed then go from right to left!