(edited from an article in Artist’s Palette Magazine 2016 issue 148)
I haven’t always been an artist. I was born in England at the end of World War II and grew up in a small village in Dorset and went to the local Grammar School. I was always fascinated by all aspects of science and was naturally attracted to a career in medicine for which I was trained in London. Although I did the occasional sketch and painting as a child and teenager, I was quite convinced that being creative was not compatible with a brain attuned to science, and when an art teacher said I showed promise I didn’t really believe him. Also a career as a doctor is obviously a lot more secure than one as an aspiring artist!
In 1977 I migrated to Australia with my husband and two small children where I continued to practise medicine and from time to time completed some small paintings. I gradually became more and more frustrated however that I had no time to really explore my creative side so in 1998 I retired from medicine and started painting full-time. I have never looked back.
My paintings grow out of my fascination with light, the way it affects everyday objects and reveals their beauty, special characteristics and personality, whether it is fruit and vegetables, pots and pans or the human face. Many people comment that my objects look more than real and it is true that all artists need to exaggerate to draw the eye.
I am essentially self taught but have taken numerous short courses and workshops to improve my art. I started using oils from the very beginning and it is still my preferred medium. I have also tried my hand at pastels and watercolour from time to time but always seem to come back to my oils.
My preferred subjects are still-life and portraiture; I am a realist tonal artist and have been greatly influenced by the old masters using the light to direct the viewer to the focal point and have been influenced by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Sargent and current day artists David Leffel and Richard Schmid.
My palette can vary from quite dark with great contrast to a much lighter one as may be seen in some of the accompanying images. As an oil painter it is very important to make sure your method and technique is sound and the paint surface is stable. Many beginners are put off oil painting as they think it is too difficult, but there are a few simple rules to ensure the painting will not crack or deteriorate.
First, you have to make sure your surface has a good ground and this is helped by giving any stretched canvas or panel another coat or two of gesso. Next, paint thinned with turps should be used, and followed with a layer containing more oil or other medium. I prefer to make up my own medium by simply mixing odourless solvent and linseed oil.
Although oils are slow drying compared with acrylics, I don’t find this a handicap: I always like to take the time to review what I’ve achieved by waiting between stages to see if I want to make any changes to my composition. Often a painting will evolve and tell me it needs something different – either something added or something taken away. Provided it is at the early thin stage. changes can be made that give a better idea of what’s needed by allowing time out to look at the painting with fresh eyes.
I work from a home studio and am very fortunate to have a live in critic in my husband Mike. He is an artist himself carving beautiful pieces in wood ( www.mikewardwood.com ) and we regularly pass judgement on each other’s work. He doesn’t hold back if he thinks a painting lacks something and likewise I will comment on his latest piece of sculpture. My task is easier as a wrong brushstroke can be corrected but once a piece of wood has been removed it can’t be put back!
I exhibit every year in various venues in my home city of Brisbane and have held several joint exhibitions and 2 solo exhibitions. Mike has joined me with his wood carvings in one of those and will again in April 2016. I have won several awards both for my portraits and still-life and in 2015 I took part in a collective exhibition in New York where five of my paintings were on display. Many artists from all over the world were included as part of a cultural exchange: it was a very exciting experience.
I believe it is important to continually test oneself to become a better artist and cover as many brush miles as possible consistent with leading a balanced life: after all, family and friends travel and other pursuits all stimulate ideas for painting subjects.
I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I was born into a large and poor rural family but my parents encouraged all of their children in education to reach their potential. They did not see me evolve from a career in medicine to become an artist but I’m sure they would have been delighted.