Frequently asked questions

How do you get ideas for a painting?

Planning a new painting is a really exciting time when everything is potential. Sometimes ideas tumble into my head so quickly that it’s really difficult to focus on just one. Often wanting to do them all at once – I generally work on more than one piece at a time. Other times it is a painful process, in which I drag ideas from the back of my brain, systematically going through selections of subject, context and expression. I hold them in the light of my mind’s eye to see whether any of them stimulate an emotion in me. I can make myself really miserable if an idea won’t take shape; my mind churning over and over for days on end.Of course, some of my work is based on commissions, in which case I’m trying to tap into someone else’s ideas.

Why did you start painting animals?

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw animals. I often say that I’m not an artist who happens to paint animals, but a naturalist who happens to use art to express how I feel about nature. Having said that, I have a burning desire to paint – it’s like breathing.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Inspiration is a weird thing. I certainly have my camera with me always. I visit the zoo every week and I look out for places to see animals wherever I travel. Just copying images wouldn’t do it. It doesn’t produce the emotion that I need to feel and that people buy my work for. I need to be immersed in nature. So watching new tiger cubs at the zoo or a wild black bear in a wood in Maine is very inspiring. But searching for Autumn mushrooms or finding a woodpecker nest in Spring is just as much a part of my inspiration. I may not paint them, but they connect me to the secret world of nature.

What’s your favourite animal to paint?

Whatever I’m painting next.

Did you train?

I’ve drawn and painted all my life and I believe that’s the best way to hone your skills. Artists do tend to move in certain circles where they meet other artists. We may share experiences and techniques. But people buy my work because it is my work and there is a style to it that is borne of my techniques, process and view of the subject matter. I’ve developed these myself and its why my work is recognisable. Nonetheless, I’m in a constant state of learning and I think my work gets better and better.

How do you ever know when something is finished?

I know, believe me, I know. I always have a picture in my mind’s eye when I start a piece. I’ve learned to trust that instinct that tells me when I’ve achieved what I want. Very occasionally, I’ll go back afterwards and alter something, but not often. I think that’s something that comes with experience.

How long does a painting take?

I could say that it takes as long as it takes, which is true as each picture is different. But as a rule of thumb it takes anywhere from a few hours for a drawing to several weeks for a large oil painting. I seldom work on just one piece at a time, so that makes it more difficult to be very accurate.

Do you ever throw anything away?

Rarely. Firstly because I am actually pretty good at what I do, so I know what will work and what won’t. Secondly if a painting is not working as I originally intended, I know how to take it in a different direction.