Our first Featured Artist of the Spring is the wonderful Andrea Hook, who’s worked as both an accomplished illustrator and graphic designer. Read on for our Q&A with Andrea.
How did you get started as an artist?
I have been an artist as long as I can remember – certainly since early childhood. From the beginning, I have always drawn and painted things which were meaningful to me, and with which I felt connected. I was lucky that our garden was an old orchard, full of interesting gnarled trees. I had a particular favourite nearest my bedroom window, which I used to sketch frequently. Growing up in a non-artistic household meant that I didn’t have a lot of access to art materials, so I improvised by etching birds and wildlife onto spare slate tiles using an old compass. It’s strange to think that they eventually ended up back on the roof!
Years later, following a BA Honours degree at Lancaster University, I became a graphic designer and illustrator in London and Dorset, latterly illustrating and painting natural history boards which were displayed in various locations county wide. I began painting on a larger and more intensive scale while raising a young family – starting with my children’s portraits. When a professional artist told me I should be exhibiting my paintings, I felt my vocation was endorsed.
What inspires you to be creative?
A wide range of things inspire me – fleeting moments like reflections on water, a glimpse of strong colour or just observing people and animals. Other times a phrase will come to mind and challenge me to describe it pictorially. Some of these images demand to be responded to immediately e.g. The preening robin in ‘Ruffled Feathers’ (mixed media including textiles, foil, inks and dip pen detail) actually flew into shot while I was photographing ferns and foliage for an entirely different project. Others originate as a concept and involve me designing the image from scratch. ‘A Shadow of My Former Self’ (oil on linen canvas) began as a comment I was about to post on social media, but decided to keep and develop for myself!
Sometimes, a holiday snapshot intended for the family album can ‘nudge’ me to paint it later, due to its composition or appealing narrative content. I painted ‘Precious Metal’ after seeing the customised locks on a bridge in Florence and wondering about all the relationships the rusting padlocks represented.
How would you describe your creative process?
From that first flash of inspiration, or spark of a conceptual idea, my challenge is to capture the original emotion I felt when contemplating the subject. I also aim to encourage something personal and unique to develop in my interpretation. With an intended idea of the finished picture in mind, I decide on the media, support and scale needed to achieve this – do I want a smooth surface or a heavily textured one? What size – very large or very small? However I start, I am always open to developing the idea organically and possibly introducing new media and ideas while the work is in progress. I think the successful conclusion of my creative process is when I have said what I wanted to say.
What is your favourite medium to work in and why?
I work in most media including oil, acrylic, mixed media, pastel and coloured pencil. If I could only work in one, it would have to be acrylic. It’s such a versatile medium, ranging from heavy body paint (which I apply neat in an impasto style or diluted in layers and glazes) – to acrylic inks in the most beautiful jewel-like colours, earthy sienna tones and metallic hues. Acrylics can be painted on practically every surface (subject to some preparation in certain cases). I’ve painted murals onto plastered walls plus friezes onto windows – as well as the more usual paintings on canvas, panels, mount boards and papers. Layering with acrylics can result in beautiful transparent painterly marks or the most detailed realistic finish. Aside from the versatility of the medium, I love the predictability of the speed at which it dries. I also enjoy the unpredictability of applying acrylic inks to wet paper! Acrylic doesn’t need smelly or toxic mediums – it can just be diluted with water. Finally, it can be used to resemble pastel or varnished to achieve the appearance of an oil painting. ‘Eyeworth Pond’ was created using the same acrylic paint in several ways – paint was applied with the side of a palette knife to achieve the textural quality of the background trees, the skyline was applied and manipulated to resemble pastel plus washes and glazes of thinned paint were layered for the water. I was delighted to win the New Forest Open with this painting last year, and extremely flattered that it was subsequently bought by another artist.
How do you tackle a ‘blank canvas’?
Take a deep breath and plunge in! Actually, I take some care to map out the composition and dimensions of my subject first, especially if I am using something like a pre-stretched canvas or a thick panel, which will be difficult to cut or ‘crop’ later if I wanted to. My initial aim is to ‘get it right first time’ but I am open to adapting and changing some areas as the work develops too. Luckily, when working in paint it is usually possible to revise whole sections if desired, but this is not so easy when working purely in coloured pencil such as ‘Frank & Honor’s Discussion (Over a Crossword)’ where progress has to be rather more disciplined.
The first part of the painting is often the most exciting, the planning has been done, and it is time to commit – dive in and get started – I sometimes find that it’s the middle bit which can be more testing!
What do you find the most challenging about the creative process?
Lack of time! I have additional working and family demands to address first, so my creative time can be squeezed more often than my paints!
In which ways do you differentiate your work from that of other artists?
My immediate response would be to say ‘by signing my name at the bottom’, but I would be first to admit that my work is rather eclectic – I think it would be difficult to identify them all as the work of one artist anyway! I suppose, like any artist, my work is ultimately an autobiographical collection – it archives my personal experiences and confirms that ‘I was here!’
What are your essential tools?
Imagination, a camera to capture reference material, a notebook for ideas, my floor to ceiling art cupboard.
How would you describe your studio/workspace?
I would describe my studio in the future tense! I definitely plan to have one eventually – until then I have taken over a large part of the conservatory with my permanent easel and workspace, plus a good chunk of the kitchen too. This part of the house has lots of natural light making it ideal for prepping, painting and photographing my work, so it works for now.
Any tips for preparing a portfolio?
Most importantly, you must appreciate that you are in the presentation business and that first impressions count. Regardless of your artwork style, make sure it is presented perfectly with strong attention to detail. Start and finish the collection with strong pieces and remove anything which may detract from the overall quality. Show enthusiasm and passion when talking about your work. Treat any interview like an audition, be well prepared and submit your best, but don’t be disheartened if you are not selected – like actors, artists face a lot of rejection and you have to treat it as a positive to spur you on and not give up.
Do you have a favourite art tip that you can share with our readers?
I think the best tip I have is – invest time in your art! Visit art galleries and museums; read books, magazines and blogs; browse other artists’ work on the internet; go on courses; spend time with like-minded people and paint/draw as much as you can. Whether your first marks are on paper, an iPad or scratched onto slate with an old compass, follow Paul Klee’s example by taking a line for a walk…you never know where it may take you!
Where can our readers find out more about you?
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