Artist Life: Mark Fennell

Artist Life: Mark Fennell

‘Never give up. Nothing worth doing comes easy.’

Artist Mark Fennell
Artist Mark Fennell

We are all inherently nosy. We want to know how other artists work, what their studios look like and glean any top tips learnt through years of trial and error. Let’s share our struggles and successes, awards and knock backs. What keeps you going? Strong coffee and determination? Do you work best at night-time or first thing in the morning? Do you have a favourite chair or a lucky brush. Share your Artist Life with Pegasus Art.

What is your regular painting practice? Do you paint or draw every day?

I generally paint 4-5 days a week, basically I treat it like a job but fortunately I don’t have to work from 9-5. My days are flexible, I walk the dog before I get started, so I don’t really get going until about 10am but sometimes work into the evening.

Palette knife painting of Phil Harris by Mark Fennell
Palette knife painting of Phil Harris, lead singer in Mark’s band

Are you a trained artist, or self taught? Do you think that matters?

I’m a self taught painter, although I did go to art school where I studied graphic design and advertising after a 1 year foundation course where I had the opportunity to try every creative discipline, everything from fashion design to photography. I did a lot of life drawing at art college which I think was invaluable training for any artist.

I don’t think it matters at all, I know plenty of great self taught artists with no art school background.

Are you part of a painting group? Do you have mentors or people who help and advise you?

I’m a member of the RBSA, Bucks art society and Oxford art society.

Occasionally I go on painting workshops with artists that I respect and admire, so far I’ve been on workshops with Tom Coates, Nicolas Uribe and Tim Benson.

Self portrait by Mark Fennell
Self portrait – Mark Fennell

How do you fit painting in around family life? Do you have a day job alongside painting?

I’ve been painting for about 19 years and over the years I had to balance work and family life.

Up until 2017 I was only painting at weekends and on holidays.

I ended my 30+ year career as an art director in advertising in 2017,  my 2 daughters are now grown up with their own families and living in Spain and Cape town.

I now dedicate all my time to painting, running on average about 12 workshops a year as well as holding painting demonstrations for art groups and societies.

Tony by Mark Fennell. This painting was shortlisted for Artists & Illustrators 2019 Artist of the Year Awards.
Tony by Mark Fennell. This painting was shortlisted for Artists & Illustrators 2019 Artist of the Year Awards.

What inspires you?

Other artists work, living artists such as Andrew James, Simon Davis, Tim Benson, Nicolas Uribe and of course Lucien Freud, Diego Velasquez and Rembrandt to mention a few.

Tell us which materials you favour and why

Winsor and Newton oil artists colours are a favourite, but also use some Michael Harding oils. I have recently bought a Zecchi palette which is a good size, really light, perfectly balanced and very easy on your arm when you’re standing to paint day after day. I also have a Mastersons stay wet palette for acrylic painting, which I have found to be much better than any other stay wet palette I’ve tried, you can reuse the paper sheets and the lid seals really well, keeping the paint wet for the next days painting.

Do you have a favourite brush shape and brand?

I use Rosemary brushes classic range short flat hog brushes mainly, I also like her Ivory range which I use mainly for acrylic painting and occasionally with oils.

These brushes hold their shape well and have a nice springiness to them.

As the saying goes ‘It’s never too late’. What advice can you give to people who want to take up painting in later life?

Go for it! I didn’t start painting until I was 41. It’s been a lot of hard work and still is but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done along with learning to play blues harmonica 7 years ago and now play in a band.

How did you make the leap to become a professional artist?

What advice can you give people who are passionate about painting but aren’t able to fully commit?

What made a difference to you?

I was diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma approx 4 years ago, at the time I was working as an art director in advertising. I’d hated the job for a long time and was convinced it was the reason I got ill, so eventually I downsized and took the leap from a well paid job to do what I love.

Who was your greatest art influence – teacher, famous artist….

When I started painting I had a book on Van Gogh’s portraits and another on Diego Velazquez, I looked at them constantly as I was painting.

I also found Oil painting techniques and materials by Harold Speed a really useful and informative book.

Do you enter painting competitions?

Yes, I enter exhibitions at the Mall galleries London. I’ve exhibited with The Royal society of Portrait Painters and this year one of my paintings has been accepted for The Royal society of British Artists, where I won The Winsor and Newton painting award.

I’ve also entered The Artist and Leisure painters Patchings exhibition of which I’ve had work accepted on two occasions.

I was awarded The Artists and Illustrators Artist of the Year West Design prize, peoples choice award 2012 for portrait of ‘Len’. And also shortlisted for Artist of the year in 2019.

Mark was awarded Winsor & Newton painting award at The Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2020 with this self portrait.
Mark was awarded Winsor & Newton painting award at The Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2020 with this self portrait.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on developing a style of portrait painting with painting knives.

Mark Fennell palette knives
Marks palette knives

What has been your biggest success as a painter?

I think my biggest success as a portrait painter is to have exhibited with The Royal Society of Portrait Painters on three occasions.

What is the single best piece of advice you can give to another artist?

Never give up, nothing worth doing comes easy.

Forthcoming painting workshops with Mark Fennell at Pegasus Art

Zorn Palette Portraits in Oils

2nd October 2021

10 – 4pm £80

Working from a head model, this day workshop will focus on the basics of portrait painting with a limited palette of three colours plus white, famously used by Swedish painter Anders Zorn to create beautiful skin tones.

Palette Knife Portraits

20th November 2021

10 – 4pm £80

Learn how to paint bold expressive portraits with palette knives, laying the paint on thick to create a rich painting full of texture and energy.