FAQ

ARTISTS PROFILE

Below are questions I frequently get asked.  If there is anything else you would like to know please contact me.

Questions asked by A Level Student Erin Hughes September 2017

Do prefer landscapes, seascapes or cityscapes, urban areas to paint?

I would have to say I have a preference for the sea.  It’s a big subject that is full of light, space, drama and movement.

Did you begin your career painting landscapes or cityscapes?

I was always interested in landscape despite being born and living in London.  I remember being given a small book on the paintings of John Constable. His use of paint, colour and his depiction of space and light were a great influence.  Landscape could also express abstract qualities relating to mood, memories, senses and feelings.

In Dorset – do you have a favorite spot/place from which to paint?

Dorset has a varied landscape and there are three places that have become special places for me to paint.  Studland Bay is full of colour (almost Mediterranean) and a view to the dramatic Old Harry Rocks and Poole Harbour.  The Isle of Portland is wild and unlike anything else in Dorset. The lighthouse at Portland Bill is subject to the worst of weathers and big seas. Charmouth beach too has a wildness and is part of the Jurassic coastline.  It has views to Lyme Regis and Portland, with a range of cliffs which catch the light in a spectacular way.

At a recent exhibition your paintings there were done in oil paint, are there any times when you choose to work in a different medium?

Oil paint is a robust medium which stands up to the weather I encounter in the landscape.  I do use and make watercolours and mixed media work but I have never get the depth of feeling from them that I do from using oil paint. Titian, Rembrandt and Turner all used oil paint and I like that link to history.

Do you have a coast line you enjoy the most?

The North Norfolk Coast.  It is a vast and hauntingly beautiful place.

Do you have a weather preference when you are painting in terms of atmosphere?

Yes, the worse the weather the better I respond.  I find blue sky unengaging.

Do you have a favorite time of day to paint?

I paint from early in the morning until dusk.  I do like sunrises and the time towards sunset especially in Autumn.

Which artist or artists have been your biggest inspiration?

It’s a big list but my true heroes are Titian, Rembrandt, Turner and Constable Cezanne and Monet.

Do you admire any particular contemporary landscape artists? 

As you, I do like Joan Eardley’s paintings and drawings.  Again another big list for contemporary painters but De Kooning, Philip Guston, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and are my true contemporary heroes.  I am also very drawn to abstract painters and would include Sean Scully, Gillian Ayres, Albert Irving, Howard Hodgkin, Roy Oxlade and Barbara Rae.

 

David Atkins ‘from responses to questions asked by author and painter Phil Tyler’ 2016

How would you describe yourself as a painter?

I’m a painter who is very much interested in the use and application of paint. I love the marks, texture and feel you get from different qualities of paint and I particularly enjoy and get inspiration from using paint in a very gestural and abstract way. To describe myself as a painter I would say I am a romantic painter in the tradition of English artists such as Turner and Constable – with a bit of American abstract expressionism in there too. I’m very much inspired by landscape but also by it’s transient qualities, light, weather, seasons and colour.  I mainly work in situ going out in the landscape in all weather s and seasons, responding and reacting to all the visual and sensory situations I discover whilst out there.

Is the landscape your major preoccupation?

Landscape is a major preoccupation and it was the first thing that I really got excited by as a subject to paint.  I have always been fascinated by the interpretation of landscape and what it can stand for in terms of how it moves and inspires you.  I think it touches your soul and can tap into very deeply held feelings. It is one of those things that can take your breath away, it goes beyond words and that’s what started my interest in landscape.  From very early on I was encouraged to go for walks in parks and woods in London. It was those that initially started my interest. I was moved in both a physical and spiritual way to what I was looking at and this seemed an appropriate subject for me as an aspiring painter.   Why landscape painting?  Is there a particular place / location that keeps coming back to you as a motif?   I tend to find its places that have very little subjects in it but instead they have an incredible sense of space.  It’s that, which excites me as a painter. I moved about twenty years ago for a short while to Norfolk. I was so moved there and fell in love with the landscape because it was so vast. I remember standing on a beach on the North Norfolk coast and just wondering at the sheer greatness and enormity of the scene in front of me, and it just did something. It was like looking at a Mark Rothko painting, it seemed to go on into infinity and it is those aspects of landscape that really draw me in. Places that allow the drama created by light and weather to take centre stage are fundamental to me.  These tend to be heathland, moors, estuaries and the coastline, quite wild places When I am painting outside, things happen, things move and its that constant change that keeps me excited and animated as a painter.  I tend to respond quite quickly to different situations, and I rather enjoy that.  Quite often I will get to, what I would consider, the completion of a painting when something in the landscape will happen or change that makes me go back into the painting and alter the whole lot completely.

What are the similarities and differences between drawing and painting the landscape?

For me they’re fairly similar… They are both about discovery and finding solutions to how I interpret a landscape.  I make drawings in different ways from a simple sketch up to a large, fully realised outcome.  Initially, drawing allows me to rapidly explore, ideas, places, and subjects and to become familiar with the landscape in a variety of ways. I might draw many different subjects and these allow me to make evaluations and decisions about what is important and a possibility for further development. They provide the seeds of opportunity, which sometimes take a few years to realise, but eventually lead to a body of work.  I absolutely love drawing!  It is such a direct approach to rendering a subject and draws on your creative and ability to do so without the emotive use of colour.

 

With painting too, I want to respond as directly as I can to what I am seeing and I put that down in the same way that I would make a drawing. Other elements that come into play in a painting such as rendering negative space, which occurs naturally in drawing, but needs to be added in a painting.  I have to work through a phase in the painting until the elements of the drawing come back into it.  There’s a lot more things to think about in painting too, colour being paramount but still there is an underlying process and approach that is applicable to both.  I hope to keep that energy and vigour in the paintings that comes through my drawing.

Is the medium important and how does that effect how you approach the landscape?

Yes, it is.  Quite early on I rejected approaches to painting that allowed for effects and I always wanted the paint to go through a process that was direct and as honest as possible. I also wanted that to be kind of hard won so I restricted myself quite early on to traditional materials and techniques of oil paint. Because I work outside I have got a limit as to what I take and carry out. I use knives rags, hands and big brushes, I keep it simple, just adding a thinning medium and turpentine when necessary.

Plein air, drawing, colour sketches, photography can you tell me something about your thinking process when making a painting?

My thinking process starts early on in the studio when I’m thinking about places to go, where I should paint, and that can be the most difficult bit as I can twist and turn, overthinking and procrastinating about where to start.  What would be the best place to go to make a great painting? I use sketchbooks memories, photos, videos and maps to help.  I think about all sorts of issues that you use in order to make a decision so that’s probably the most difficult bit.

When I’m in the landscape, because I paint in situ I work quite spontaneously, reacting and responding quickly to my environment and conditions of light, weather and colour. I quickly include such changes during the painting process working intuitively to interpret my subject.  Matisse said ‘the best decisions are made in action’.  I make marks and gestures that are reflective of my intuitive responses. I start a painting by plotting and drawing with paint.  It is a careful start but will eventually move to a more dynamic approach. I take a lot of chances out there and do not shy away from rubbing the whole thing out and starting again. There is a point I will reach where I stop overthinking and a meaningful dialogue will take place between me and the landscape.  It’s almost like the landscape has granted me the privilege of seeing it’s true beauty.  I no longer am forcing my will or ideas in the painting but reflecting what I am seeing and experiencing.    With every painting I want to keep a level of interpretation, investigation and energy going and sometimes I’m not quite sure what I’ve ended up with.  The last part of the thought process is when you bring them back into the studio to see what you’ve really done.  More often than not there are a lot of failures, a lot of things that you thought had gone really well but didn’t. Colours that you thought you had put down but now look wrong.  There can be some tough decisions as to what succeeds as a painting and what to put forward.

Is there another subject within the landscape? What are you trying to express or explore with it?

Within the landscape I’m always looking for a subject or a place to paint that will express or reflect something about myself, about the way I think and feel and make sense of the world. For me its about finding perhaps the poetry within a subject. Light, weather and seasons are essential elements, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and providing the drama and beauty to a landscape. I also respond very much the ephemeral aspects related to a landscape, light, weather, season colour and time of day, things that move and transform. The ever changing conditions encourage me to work in a swift and physical way and allow for a certain amount of freedom within painting. I can use paint and colour in a direct, energetic and tactile way.

At the end, a painting has to have its own existence, its own life, and not just be a record of where I am. It has to take on a particularly new life and go beyond just being a picture, and exist somehow as a painting. Something that is timeless, that you can look at again and again and see new things in them, it should grow with you, “they’re alive!”.

Wherever I choose to set up my easel, I respond wholeheartedly to what’s in front of me.  Anything can happen and that keeps it exciting”.

What colours are on your palette and tell me why you have made these choices?

I have a full spectrum of oil colours in my bag but start by limiting them on my palette.  I select a variation of primary colours depending on the light, weather and season.  For instance winter days suggest the use of Prussian or ultramarine blues, in the summer it tends towards Cobalt or Cerulean Blue. I might start with lemon yellow, a light red and a cobalt blue. This limit cuts down on the decision making and relies on a level of skill to rapidly find a successful range of mixes. Along the way I may find I need to change and bring something that will work more successfully.  A great deal of secondary and tertiary colours occurs when mixing on the palette and create beautiful greys and earth colours.

Provide some information as to what inspires you?  Explain your attitude toward your work?

There are places, times, moments in a day that can be extraordinary and it is these that I seek to discover through the act of painting. The visual excitement and bombardment of people, objects, light, space, colour and movement are the subjects I explore in the hope of conveying a sense of life in that moment.

Initially it is through the act of drawing that I engage with my surroundings.  I am constantly aware of time and of the notion that things will rapidly change.  People will move through, traffic will race by, the light will vary and weather will change.  In small sketchbook studies I aim to quickly capture all I can through scribbled line and mark.  Through painting I hope to express something of both my subject and my experience – to discover and to convey some essence of the place. By drawing or painting in a city or landscape I feel as though I am part of a drama or an event, desperately attempting to say something about that moment and my involvement in it.

Throughout all my work I want to convey some sense of the spirit of a place not just a depiction of it.  When people see my paintings I’d like them to experience the act of painting and to be touched and moved by what they see.

Why do you create art?  How did you get started?

Painting is a means of communicating what I feel most passionately about.  It is a language that allows me to express my responses to the very beautiful and inspiring things I see around me.

I started very young and remember long evenings spent working at the kitchen table, playing records and talking to my mum whilst copying paintings by artists such as Constable and Gainsborough. I showed signs of promise and at 11 was enrolled in life classes on Saturday mornings.  I attended for eight years before being accepted to art school in London.

What fascinates you about your subject matter or medium?

As a painter I am fascinated by the expressively tactile and physical qualities which paint can convey.  It is for me a very human activity. I tend to work intuitively, building up and changing a work as I respond to what’s happening.  As work progresses so the marks and use of paint become more vigorous and economical.  What results is the culmination of a struggle to say what’s important, essential and poetic.

I was born and brought up in London but always loved to get out and escape to the country.  Long walks and hikes, through the rolling countryside of the south of England and the dramatic light and weather, just filled me with intense pleasure.  Painting seemed to allow me a way to convey these experiences and feelings.

Throughout all my work I want to convey some sense of the spirit of a place not just a depiction of it.  When people see my paintings I’d like them to experience the act of painting and to be touched and moved by what they see.

Technique

I use traditional paintings materials, good quality oil paint, brushes and palette knives.  I use a painting medium consisting of turpentine, dammar varnish and linseed oil.  I work on both gesso primed MDF board and canvas. I like to use board when painting outside, as it is robust enough to withstand some of the weather I encounter.  It also resists the paint so it doesn’t sink in to the surface and allows the texture to remain.  I make large paintings in my studio and apply paint in layers, which get built up over a period of time.  I tend to use a variety of brushes both large and small including decorators brushes.  If I am working outside I will hike all of my kit to my chosen location and set up a table and easel.  I work directly on to a board sometimes sketching an outline with a brush for blocking in large area of colour to give me an idea of the light and space.  A painting develops from a constant process of looking and responding.  I gain confidence in applying colour and mark all the while editing, erasing and reworking.  There is a point when I achieve something new and exciting in the painting and realise a moment where looking and working have come together.  It is a very physical activity and long hours and many days can be spent in just one location.

 

 

 

Tell us something about your geographic location and what inspiration you may find in the area you live?

Having moved from London to Dorset ten years ago I still find that my inspiration is divided between the two.  Dorset is a county in the south of England famous for its dramatic, world heritage coastline.  It was also the home to the author Thomas Hardy whose life and work attracts a huge number of visitors. His descriptions of the Dorset landscape have also been a source of inspiration for me.  There is a large variety of subjects to paint and endless possibilities for painting.  The more I get to know it the richer I feel my paintings are becoming.

London is just such a contrast with endless movement, noise and energy.  I will never tire of painting it.

Training

On CV   http://www.david-atkins.com/cv.html