Artist Insights – Andrea Hook
Winner of Artist of the Month courtesy of Artists & Illustrators magazine.
Andrea, you won this month’s Portfolio Plus £50 Pegasus Art voucher. Congratulations!
Do you like entering art competitions and do you think it’s valuable?
I began entering art competitions as a child and I can well remember the excitement of getting prizes through the post. (A black bat kite and a dress-up kit!) and the almost disbelief at seeing my painting displayed on the wall of a local department store. I began to enter Open Art competitions again around 7 years ago as a creative outlet and to give myself a challenge. With the added incentive of a deadline to work too!
Entering art competitions encourages you to try other media or subjects you may not have considered. It could lead to other opportunities. It builds experience and can introduce you to the work of other artists. Finally it can be something to put on your art CV too!
Two of my personal highlights are winning the New Forest Open Art Competition in 2015. Then, being shortlisted for Artist of the Year with Artists & Illustrators Magazine in 2017. I was over the moon to be selected and have my work included in the exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London. (Still with that sense of disbelief that I experienced as a small child!)
What inspired your winning painting? Tell us about the process and materials too please!
Artists & Illustrators Magazine’s April 2020 brief was to paint ‘home’ … ‘as the current lockdown requires us to spend more time than ever in our homes’. With a full house again (our children back at home from closed universities and working from home) I’d been spending a lot more time than usual in the home too. Mostly keeping busy in the kitchen, looking out at and genuinely appreciating this view.
My husband, the only gardener in the family, is forever telling me ‘the garden is a picture’ so I thought I would make that a reality! I considered setting up an easel in front of the kitchen sink. Covering the worktops with my painting things, but realised I wouldn’t be able to do the piece ‘alla prima’ in one sitting. So I took several photos of the scene through the window. I then worked from this reference image on my ipad at the kitchen table.
It would have been almost impossible to paint solely from this image. (The reference photographs tended to silhouette the kitchen and ‘bleach’ the garden view). So I had to keep returning to the window for guidance. I used oil paints (mostly Winsor & Newton plus a few Michael Harding) brushes and a canvas board. Then I tinted the board first with paint thinned with Sansodor. Sketched out the scene with thinned Burnt Sienna using a paint brush. Then set about establishing the darks, working up to thicker paint. I added the highlights at the end with ever decreasing sizes of paintbrushes ending with a Rigger. I used Liquin impasto in the later stages of painting so that some of the paint applications would retain their texture.
Are you a full time artist, or do you balance your painting with other jobs?
I started my career working full-time as a graphic designer for fifteen years, in both London and Dorset. My favourite job during this time was illustrating and painting natural history boards. They were displayed in various beauty spots all over Dorset. I had a break to raise our family, and then took various jobs (sometimes two at a time) which fitted around school hours. One of these jobs was extremely creative, doing all the display, set design and painting of productions in a secondary school. It was thoroughly enjoyable, but it could very easily encroach on all my home time. (The danger of taking work home with you!). So it was now that I began entering Open Art Competitions and exhibitions again, to get more of a balance of work/personal projects.
I have always painted
Alongside all the post-children jobs, I have always painted as well. As a new mother, I was initially inspired to paint my children’s portraits. My painting has gradually developed to date. For the last year or so I have supplied Dorset properties of the National Trust with cards produced from my floral and coastal paintings. My paintings and cushions are stocked by a beautiful seventeen-century Artisan gift shop and gallery in the Purbecks (Seasons Green) and I’ve my own regular Artisan stalls at a local Handmade Fair.
What is your preferred medium and which brands do you favour?
Had you asked me this question last year, I would have said Liquitex Heavy Body paint and Golden Acrylics. With painting knives on Belle Arti cotton canvas boards. But last Autumn I did a series of wildflower paintings with pollinators which included Bumblebees, Butterflies and Honeybees. I used oil paints and knives and I’ve continued painting in oils ever since.
My preferred brand of oils is Winsor & Newton but I have added some Michael Harding colours too. Most recently four new colours with this Art Competition win! With this Spring’s switch to oil paints and paint brushes I have begun to try out the super-smooth Gessobords and Loxley Artists’ Panels as a new surface/support. I have found them to be great for achieving more detail and smoother lines. So with my newly-acquired Pegasus Art supplies of oils and boards it looks like this is the direction I’m headed in for a while!
Were you formally trained or self taught and do you think this matters?
I studied graphic design at Lancaster University. My intention was to work in an advertising agency or in publishing, so I didn’t have any formal Fine Art training. I guess I would have to say that I am self taught. My childhood garden was a former orchard and I spent many happy hours here drawing the trees.
Over the years since then, I’m sure I have put in the 10,000 hours of practise they say you need to learn any new skill! I used to regularly attend workshops and residential courses with artists whose work I admired. Seeing how professional artists work in mixed media (Soraya French who is giving a talk & demonstration at Pegasus Art, Mike Bernard). Watercolour (Howard Jones) and oils (Christopher Hall) is invaluable – maybe this qualifies as ‘informal training’!
I was also very lucky to be encouraged from a young age by a teacher and artist at middle school, David Marl and professional artist Robin-Lee Hall who gave me lots of advice, encouragement and support when I was a new mum to two small children all those years ago. Subscribing to magazines, taking workshops, looking at other artists’ paintings all shape your own practice. Ultimately the best way to learn is by just doing it and keep going!
Do you paint every day? What keeps you going?
Prior to lockdown I was working and had a couple of free days a week in which I could paint. But the reality was probably only one day a week after the other tasks such as photographing and framing artwork, delivering cards, ordering supplies etc. Now all that has changed, I am painting nearly every day. If I am not painting I am generally thinking about what I will paint next (I’ve learnt if you don’t have a plan, nothing happens!)
Self-motivation keeps me going and I usually have some sort of project or series on the go. I am endlessly inspired by nature so floral and coastal images have frequently appeared in my art. Since lockdown and having to paint closer to home, I have painted the garden twice! I’ve painted more bumblebees (on tiny 10 cm square canvas boards) and started a series of still-lives inspired by the contents of the kitchen cupboards!
I’ve also been revisiting photos on my mobile phone. I’ve painted flowers in buckets in a supermarket foyer (from September 2019) and green and purple cabbages in an allotment (photo taken Autumn 2017). Yesterday I returned to my favourite subject, wildflowers on the roadside verges. They are painted in oil with brushes on a smooth 6” square panel. I’d like to continue to paint more regularly in the spirit of the Daily Painters. Googling the American artist ‘Carol Marine’ will explain all about this concept. Or even better, read her brilliant book ‘Daily Painting’!
Do you attend art classes yourself?
I attended one beginner’s watercolour art course at the Adult Learning Centre when I was a new mum and we had uprooted to the suburbs of a large city. I signed up for the opportunity to meet some like-minded people, do some art and to have some timeout for two hours a week. On walking into the room on the first evening, the tabletops were covered with evenly spaced apples. We were instructed to choose and draw in graphite pencil. I remember looking at my pencil and thinking I wrote my shopping lists with these – could I remember how to sketch with one, let alone shade?
I do recall having second thoughts – especially when the tutor asked me exactly how old my watercolour paints were. (An original Winsor & Newton metal set from the 70s probably)! But attending the course did give me back the confidence that I could still draw and paint. Before the end of the course I bought an easel, a large canvas and I had started on my first ever portrait of the children.
Which websites can you recommend for resources and support for an artist. Is it important to be part of a group, society or club? How do you stay in the loop?
I started reading Katherine Tyrrell’s blog https://makingamark.blogspot.com/ when I was working in the school. I would read it whilst sitting at my desk pc eating my lunch. It was a brilliant way to be transported from the normal view of a rather bleak flat roof to the preview of the latest major London art exhibition complete with high res images and interviews with the artists – without even leaving my Dorset desk! She also posts about upcoming opportunities and how to enter. Her statistics regarding submissions is particularly interesting eg number of works submitted and chances of acceptance etc. Another of Katherine’s extremely informative blogs is: https://www.artbusinessinfo.com/about.html which covers the business side of being an artist.
Join an art society
I have very recently joined a new art society with the focus on exhibitions, open art studios and regular artist demos and trips. Unfortunately, we now can’t meet because of the present lockdown situation. But we are still posting and sharing our latest works on the group’s facebook page to stay in touch.
You really can’t beat looking at really good art, close-up, in museums and galleries. When I first lived in London I would spend hours just looking at the Impressionist painting collection in the National Gallery. I’ve since visited exhibitions such as The Australian as well as John Singer Sargent. Also Dame Laura Knight’s exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery. Seeing artwork you think you already know ‘in the flesh’ can be literally eye-opening!
Follow contemporary artists
Following contemporary artists whose work you admire on both facebook and Instagram is great too. According to Instagram I follow several hundred artists(!). My current go-to accounts are Robin-Lee Hall (sketches and egg tempera paintings) and for oil painting indulgence: Haidee-Jo Summers (I can personally recommend both her book and DVD ‘Vibrant Oils’).
Books & DVDs for inspiration
Adebanji Alade (also known as ‘The Addictive Sketcher’ – he has a new drawing book by the same name, which I can also personally recommend, he paints in oils too); Carol Marine (the Daily Painter); Peter ‘Pete the Street’ Brown (stunning street scenes and interiors) and more recently Nia Mackeown and Nigel Mason (who has some stunning NHS heroes portraits). A brilliant all-rounder (oils, pastels, acrylics) is TaiMeng Lim, Diana Boanas for stunning contemporary watercolours and Alice Hole for detailed acrylics. I’m now practically guaranteed a stunning feed to chill to whenever I have some downtime from my own painting, and I fancy a browse.
Having said all that, I do actively seek to explore and develop my own practice. I don’t like to be so immersed in what everyone else is doing that I lose my own direction. I try to keep focused on the subjects which genuinely inspire me so that I can follow my own path.
Join a professional art society / body
Finally buying membership with the SAA (Society for All Artists) will ensure that your paintings are insured for exhibition. (limit according to level of membership). It gives you public liability insurance (essential when having a stall at events, such as Artisan Fairs etc).
Do you find social media useful to you as an artist?
I would say having a website, a Facebook page and Instagram account are essential if you want your work to be seen. It certainly beats carrying all your paintings around with you! The first thing someone will do if they have seen your art somewhere and later decide they would like to learn more, is google you. I have sold a fair amount of paintings from enquiries via my website and social media. Even though I have never advertised them for sale. A website or social media presence acts as an online portfolio of your work 24/7 and makes you contactable too. I’ve made friends with several artists on Facebook and Instagram, even though I haven’t actually met them for real!
Just like entering an art competition, putting your work out there for public scrutiny on social media – or being that new person at adult learning classes – IS daunting. But it really is true that there is no such thing as failure, only not trying in the first place. You really do have to be ‘in it to win it’. So if you have a piece of art that you are not sure whether to enter for a competition/exhibition or not, just ‘do it’. You too could have that feeling of disbelief of seeing your work up there too!
The best advice I ever read was ‘If you want to be an artist, you just have to start (by) painting!’. The best advice I was ever given was ‘Keep going!’
You can find out more about Andrea and her work at www.andreahookart.com
and on her social media platforms:
If you would like the chance to win a £50 Pegasus Art Voucher for art materials, join as a member of Portfolio Plus at Artists & Illustrators magazine here.