Questions and answers for Cowling & Wilcox

· How did you get started as an artist?

I earnestly ‘got started’ in 2015 with a resolve to explore full-time my abilities, and learn more about mediums and techniques.

Little me with painting

Me aged around five. It’s probable that my father made the painting for the set-up photo. The easel and palette would have been my mother’s.

It was definitely nature not nurture. My mother was an artist, but left us when I was four. As a small child, drawing was my favourite pastime, but at the age of seven, a new stepmother confiscated all my materials and I was regularly punished for attaining A+ in art at school. I think to her mind, being ‘artistic’ was synonymous with the archetypal eccentric, non-conformist – qualities that should be stamped out. I ran away from home at the age of fifteen, but didn’t escape the ‘mustn’t paint police’. They had become internalised.

My creativity was channelled positively for many years however, through my own successful business as a specialist antique restorer, using diverse skills involving sculpting, air-brushing, and needlecrafts. Later, I studied literature at university and began to explore my creativity through the written word.

· What inspires you to be creative?

I’m inspired by light, contrast, colour, drama – something quirky or in surprising juxtaposition. I’m a people-watcher. I stop and look closely at tree bark or the wings of an insect. Creative is my core. I’m often pointing at things, drawing others’ attention to details that they would otherwise pass without notice – for instance a broken guitar floating in a pond, or a pair of beer cans hanging in a tree. I walk a great deal (with my dog) and carry my camera everywhere. I recently joined a life-drawing group. It meets weekly, and the poses and subjects, often from art history, are inspirational. For instance, the theme one week was Egon Schiele, so in the preceding days I studied his work, noticing how defined the muscles and tendons were, how contorted the fingers; so that session I gave more attention to the same.

· How would you describe your creative process?

Day-dreaming – being compelled to create in an explorative way, or to ‘capture’. More day-dreaming. A random spark of something seems to fall then ignites until my mind is burning with an idea. But sometimes an experimental thought will come: ‘why don’t I try such-and-such?’ or ‘what would happen if I did so-and-so? Having expressed myself through the written word for many years, I probably approach making a painting in a similar way to writing a poem, but am now resolved to explore ways to communicate through visual media. I have escaped the ‘mustn’t paint police’!

· What is your favourite medium to work in and why?

Oils – I like the way I can ‘push’ them around the surface, the way they remain pliable, sculptural, allowing me to play (although sometimes I feel impatient for them to harden). Also, if I make a muddy mess, I can scrape them off. They forgive and let me start again. I usually have two or three paintings on the go at a time, this gives me something to get on with while I wait for drying/hardening. I like the smell of oils and their texture is sensual. For sketches, I like to work with pastels on black paper – it gives a neon effect and keeps my marks minimal. Sometimes I live on a boat, so having a wet canvas in that confined space would be impractical. Then I use acrylics on canvas board or watercolour paper.

· How do you tackle a blank canvas?

It depends on the subject and my mood. Sometimes, I will plan carefully, draw, layout and underpaint main areas and shapes with a thinned medium. I leave it to dry, then return to build up detailed layers from dark to light, fat over thin. But another time, there will be no careful planning, just attack with a very basic sketch made with brush and unthinned paint. With a glass of wine in my other hand, singing to the music, I’ll use the palette-knife to work in one session, intensely, with marks coming more from my shoulder than wrist.

· What do you find the most challenging about the creative process?

I’m most challenged by self-belief. Sometimes I feel exhilarated by what I create, believing in my capability to paint and improve – another time I am filled with doubt, wondering if I have the ability to see anything I create objectively. Sometimes I’m full of confidence, sometimes fragile, and this can create a hiatus when I can’t paint at all for days.

· In which ways do you differentiate your work from that of other artists?

I’m self-taught – I do what I please, but sometimes I wish I had been to art school to learn the ‘trade secrets’. I think currently I’m on a steep growth and development climb, having inhibited the urge to paint for so long. A lot of my work this year shows technical ability, in my opinion, but I’m working towards more freedom and expression. My work is individual just as my voice or signature is individual – I enjoy looking carefully at the work of others, and find inspiration there constantly, but never to imitate, just assimilate and allow it to brew in my sub-conscious.

· What are your essential tools?

The right frame of mind is essential – ignoring other tasks and concentrating only on the project. I have a vintage wooden palette that I found at a boot-fair years ago. Aesthetically pleasing surroundings are essential. I keep my brushes in vintage pottery vases and jugs. I’m a little sentimental about my tools. I have a large wooden easel that I bought years ago, with good intent. But after one portrait, it stood folded in the spare room, unused for years. I have a natural fibre Chinese brush that I use to blend or smooth. I prefer synthetic brushes to coarse fibre for portraiture. If I’m given money for a gift, I go straight to the suppliers, which makes me feel like a child in a sweet shop. I want everything there! When I use the tools I’ve bought, I always think of the person who gifted me the money. I’m increasingly using the palette-knife for applying paint generously, also for sgraffito. I need music, because in silence I get distracted by ‘noises off’. Classic music is best, and it makes me smile, how, when a piece of music is faster or more dramatic, I paint faster, with more drama.

· How would you describe your studio/workspace?


My beloved writing space. I should clear out the furniture to make a committed studio space, but am too attached to the Gothic revival desk, bookcase and swivel chair.

My studio/workspace is my old writing study and is too small. I get frustrated sometimes, but on the other hand it forces me to tidy and not get too chaotic. ‘Organised chaos’ describes my surroundings well.

Over the past few years, in an historic public building, I painted numerous large murals for charity events like Halloween and Christmas. But now I paint for myself. The contrast between those huge spaces and surfaces to my little study is great. I dream of a large studio.

· Any tips for preparing a portfolio?

I did prepare a portfolio about 20 years ago, placing into it a variety of work – a large charcoal still life, an oil portrait, and my sketch books. I also put in a brochure of drawings I had made for christening robe designs. I think a portfolio needs to show proof of commitment. I was admitted into Canterbury University for their undergraduate course on the strength of the portfolio, but a divorce changed my circumstances so radically, I was unable to take up the offer.

· Do you have a favourite art tip that you can share with our readers?

When painting from my photography, if I am struggling with lines, I sometimes turn the canvas and picture from which I am working sideways or upside down. This stops me from making assumptions about the form and forces me to see shapes. I also take the canvas from the easel and hold it to a mirror. This can reveal an imbalance.

· Where can our readers find out more about you?

My website is

I also have a facebook page

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