This week’s Featured Artist is Maddie Agnew, 45, from Holmfirth in Huddersfield. Maddie creates beautiful portraits of people and animals in oils and watercolour…
How did you get started as an artist?
I have immersed myself in everything art, since I was a little girl. Any free time I had I would be drawing, painting or making things. And that never really changed. I studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, where I focused on painting. I then took some time out, before going back to study for an MA in Visual Communication. The desire to paint was always with me. Unfortunately ‘life admin’ meant that it had to take a back seat for quite a number of years, while I mastered my skills in parenthood and a career in marketing. But I have just recently been given the opportunity to focus on painting again. I am full-time artist, and it feels amazing.
What inspires you to be creative?
There is so much fulfilment I get from painting, but I think more than anything it’s the joy others get from the artwork. I paint pictures to adorn people’s walls. Until recently, many of the paintings have been commissions; portraits of children and pets. It’s so rewarding when you eventually capture the character of that being onto the canvas. When it’s well received and there are (well, might be) tears – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I am aware of interior trends and so a lot of the paintings in my collection are inspired by what would look good on a wall of a contemporary home. But I like to paint things – people, animals, plants. I am not a landscape artist by any means.
How would you describe your creative process?
I will come up with a concept, based upon a previous or a new idea I think will work well on a canvas. Sometimes I will use a photo editing suite like Photoshop to help with the composition, as I will usually work from photographs.
I mainly use oil paints. You can achieve some incredible vibrant colours and great textures. I was taught to paint in a traditional way, and so will apply the darker colours first and build up to lighter colours and the highlights – this helps to keep the vibrancy. It’s always a bit of a waiting game with oils though, so I usually have three or four paintings on the go at one time. To allow for the oil to dry off before reworking.
What’s your favourite medium to work in and why?
I love working with oils on canvas. I will always stretch my canvases with an unprimed canvas and then size them myself. After years of paintings, I find this the best surface to work on. It absorbs some but not all of the oil paint, making it really easy to move the paint around. I usually use a basic oil like a Winsor and Newton Artisan.
How to you tackle a blank canvas?
I’ll usually have an idea about what I want to do before I start painting. Sometimes I will have specific dimensions in mind and use a local woodworker who will make the stretches for me. Then it’s just a case of mapping out the paintings onto the canvas. I am currently preparing for Holmfirth Artweek. I am exhibiting in a fringe venue. I say venue – there are three restaurants that I intend to exhibit in, and so I have been working hard to put together a body of work for this. I wanted to create a series of paintings that were distinctly different for each restaurant. I have produced 12 paintings in total, some of which are relatively big (150 x 90 cm), and so there has had to be no dithering – I have to be decisive and get the paintings started.
What do you find the most challenging about the creative process?
Time – oil painting by virtue, is a long process and it can take weeks to complete a piece. As a mother of two children and a furry artist’s dog, finding the time to dedicate to the painting has been challenging. However, I am now fully focused on it, and I can already see the benefits. Painting is like any other vocation – the more time and practice you get, the more refined the technique becomes. I feel I am producing much better paintings now than ever before.
In which ways do you differentiate your work from that of other creatives?
I try not to compare myself to other creatives too much. There’s so much talent out there. Everyone has a style and technique that they have mastered. I guess if I had to differentiate myself, I would say that I have interest in interior design and so this is always at the back of my mind when producing paintings. I also have a sense of humour and like to create something different and unusual.
What are your most essential tools?
Well of course having the right kind of brushes are essential. I use a range of hog brushes. I do get through these quite a bit. The thinners I use, have a tendency to eat away at the brushes. I have an art box that my children bought me for my birthday last year which is spilling over with oil paint tubes. I used to paint with a limited pallet but these days I do enjoy a good range of colours.
Slight curveball, but one essential tool is my iPad, for Apple Music. I love to listen to music when I paint. Something upbeat, like dance music or indie-rock.
What’s your studio/workspace like?
My studio is in the attic of our house, once the spare room. I am very lucky really, it’s a beautifully large space with a lot of natural light.
As I recently left my job, the guys clubbed together and bought me a drinks fridge. It sounds most peculiar, but it’s actually incredibly practical. I have all the creature comforts up there, so I can just focus on the painting with no distractions.
My children will often come up as well, and we’ll paint together. They favour the acrylic paints though. I wouldn’t want them to use the oils. It’s so rewarding to see them getting the same enjoyment out of painting like me.
Do you have a favourite art tip that you can share with our readers?
You will never be able to finish an oil painting in one day, so be patient. Giving a painting time to dry will allow you to get the best out of the media, and the vibrancy and depth of colour you expect oils to offer.