It’s All About the Light!
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing our resident artists, Daniel. Based in London with his wife and two children, art has been a very important part of his life. He is a landscape and portrait artist who also create artworks across a wide range of genres. He can paint the faces you’d like to remember or the places that have moved you in some way.
Below is our “conversation by email” about his work, why he chose graphite drawings or pen & ink/watercolour, and a little bit about his process.
Cheryl: Who are you and what do you do?
Daniel: I’m Daniel and I’m an artist. Ha ha! Actually I have been the owner of my own driving school in West London for over fifteen years now, though art in various guises has always been a large and very important part of my life, throughout school, college, university and – touch wood – I’ve been relatively successful since, simply in terms of regular work and commissions (I’m now fast approaching 41… ooer!)
Daniel’s studio at home
Cheryl: How do you work?
Daniel: As often as I can… I do run my own business and work quite long hours so work on commissions tends to be half an hour here and there, few hours at the weekend etc (though I have been known to hark back to my university days once in a while and pull an all-nighter if there’s a strict deadline).
My graphite drawings or pen & ink/watercolour work never tends to be too much larger than A3 so I can work with it taped to a board on my lap, which is great as I get to spend more time around the family. Larger work or messy oil stuff, I’m banished to the summerhouse which, although it has a lot of clutter in currently, is still a great little space.
I’ve also now set aside Mondays as a day off to be able to dedicate more time to any commissions I have which is great. Obviously a dream would be to leisurely spend day after day dipping into various artistic projects, but one has to pay the bills…
Piano by Daniel
Cheryl: What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Daniel: Inspiration and a love for what you’re currently working on. Lose that and really, you’ve lost that piece of work.
Cheryl: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Daniel: Actually the best piece of advice was from my old drum teacher, Lloyd Ryan. I was struggling to work out some dotted note rhythms and I was getting all knotted-up and frustrated. He said, “Right, stop. Cup of tea time!” We had a cup of tea and a chat for about ten minutes, went back into the studio and it clicked straight away.
At the time this was a great epiphany to me and has applied to many aspects of my life since, whether it was revising for exams, writer’s block, music, creating art, anything really. The lesson is you can’t force it if it’s not happening. Step away, come back later with fresh eyes, ears, mind and things will flow easier.
I always try to do this with my art (unless I happen to have an extremely tight deadline, in which case I just have to be more disciplined). I work on it whenever I’m feeling fresh and inspired to do so. If I detect even the slightest waning of focus or the slightest complacency I stop. And it’s really amazing when you look back at your portfolio – you can tell which ones got the full love and which were slightly forced.
Fibonnachi by Daniel
Cheryl: What work do you most enjoy doing?
Daniel: I love all the work that I do otherwise I probably wouldn’t be doing it. It’s nice to have variety though. A lot of the commissions I get are either for landscape/architectural work or portraiture, both of which I love, but in between commissions I do like to get the oils out and get a bit messy (possibly as a reaction to the former and normally having to be more contained and precise).
It’s unusual I think, when you’re an artist like me of very limited stature, to be given free rein by a client to produce anything that you like. It goes without saying that they normally have a very specific idea of what they want.
I think also when it comes to being commissioned, I’m probably more comfortable producing art of the landscape/portrait variety because I have enough faith in my ability to satisfy the client’s needs. There’s a little less room for subjectivity in a pencil drawing of someone’s house for example, as it often has to be largely accurate and recognisable.
I also think artists can be a fairly nervous bunch in terms of wondering how their work will be received and of course abstract work, due to its very nature is open to more scrutiny and subjectivity which is possibly why for my paid work at least, I tend to stick to what I know are my strengths.
I do love producing my own freer, more abstract pieces though; there is something very liberating about producing art which doesn’t have to please anyone other than yourself (though of course you still strive to produce something you feel will be visually appealing to others). I guess with all of my art, I strive to create something that I at least think I would appreciate in one way or another. You just have to then hope that you’re a discerning enough critic. It’s nice though to be able to push the boundaries and take more risks than usual and not have to worry too much if it goes wrong.
Cheryl: What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Daniel: The most memorable and the most humbling was from a client who had commissioned me to paint a portrait of his wife, who had not long since passed away after a fight with cancer. It was a particularly poignant piece for me at the time as my wife was also at the same time, undergoing treatment for breast cancer. I absolutely put my heart and soul into that piece. I received an email from him, just after he had received it in the post, saying that for him it was perfect and that he was writing said email through his tears. Now of course, I wasn’t glad it had brought him to tears, but to know that he felt the painting helped him in some important way was quite touching.
Cheryl: What do you like about your work?
Daniel: That it doesn’t feel like ‘work’?
Aside from that, I think it would sound arrogant to praise any of my own work too much, surely that’s for other to judge?
Something I always do try and strive for in my work however, is the illusion of light. For me, this really makes or breaks a piece. Not just in the sense of helping the subject matter take form three-dimensionally, but in terms of creating an atmosphere. In what I feel is my best work, light always plays an integral part. The casting of shadows, hopefully creating a feeling of warmth, sometimes even in black and white pencil drawings, I just think it helps to bring a picture alive. It’s one of the overriding things that draws me to other people’s work and it’s often the thing that inspires me to create.
Cheryl: What research do you do?
Daniel: For some of the landscape/architectural drawings of places in central London, I went there for research purposes and took plenty of photos from a variety of perspectives. There are some decent generic stock photos online but you can’t always get a clear idea of the finer details and it’s nice to see how something actually works/ fits together in actuality (i.e. the intricate detailing of Paddington station roof).
It’s also one of the things I love about some of the work I do. Having drawn a number of iconic buildings, it forces you to consider that building in much greater depth than you probably would have normally and it’s fascinating actually. Big Ben for example, is such an iconic structure, such an ingrained and accepted part of our culture and upbringing, that the majority of us probably just take it for granted and have never really taken the time to examine its finer details. Through my work, I feel like I now know it more intimately. And it’s the same with anything I have to scrutinize for my work – it encourages you to study the world around you more carefully.
Cheryl: Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
Daniel: I wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to any of the artists I aspire to, their work is far superior to my own ha ha! But below is an idea of some of the artists I admire passionately.
Firstly in my opinion, two of the greatest living watercolour artists, Joseph Zbukvic and Alvaro Castagnet. Just astonishing work, so free and impressionistic but relentlessly perfect. These guys just whip up these paintings like they’re on autopilot, really quite staggeringly beautiful work. Seemingly so simple, but I’m positive they really aren’t.
Kim Cogan is also someone I’ve been recently drawn to. Incredibly atmospheric work. An amazing way with light which I love as I’ve already mentioned.
Simon Stalenhag’s digital work is also astonishing. Kind of 80s sci-fi inspired, post-apocalyptic scenes and very cinematic (which probably appeals to the film degree part of me). But again, he creates a phenomenal atmosphere and the light conveyed in some of his dawn/dusk images is just awe inspiring.
Portrait artists, I have always loved Frank Auerbach’s work. Amazing how he can create such character with a few bold strokes of the brush.
And I love some of Michael Malm’s portraiture work. He seems to feel the same way about light in a painting that I do and his work is just exquisite.
Cheryl: What’s the favourite thing you’ve ever created?
Daniel: Well sounds like a bit of an odd one, but I’ve always been quite proud of a very small section of one of my drawings. Specifically, the light on the trunk of a tree (a London Plane I believe) on the far left side of my drawing of the Houses of Parliament from the South Bank (see photo). I think it’s one of my greatest achievements, though with the Houses of Parliament being the main focus, no one probably ever notices that poor tree Ha Ha!
Daniel’s previous commissions are available online. If you haven’t visited his gallery before, I urge you to take the time to do so now. If nothing else, the nature of his works may just be the inspiration you’re looking for. Contact us today to commission Daniel!