Valerie Ellis, born in the UK, with many years spent in Australia, Valerie is now residing back in the UK. After spending 20 years as a therapist in Australia, Valerie began rediscovering her artistic talents by teaching herself oil painting and developing the skills to make realistic portraits and figurative paintings. More recently she has explored abstraction, brushwork, scale and composition, wanting to combine abstraction and figuration in art with symbolism and meaning in subject matter.
Q: Can you tell us about your Artistic background/education?
My childhood was very unhappy. It distracted me from pursuing art for a long time, even though I had talent. At my school art exam I completed the drawing test and went to leave the classroom…my art teacher asked for my portfolio, but I had no portfolio - I had no idea I was supposed to submit one, despite attending art classes all year! This was because I was overwhelmed with my personal issues not concerned with my school work. The teacher kindly allowed me to make a portfolio that day which was submitted for the whole year’s work. Despite this, I still gained the highest mark in the country that year. If someone told me that story today, I would expect them to pursue that talent. Instead, I went overseas to Australia where I eventually studied psychology and worked in the field for decades. Only in the last 10 years have I retuned to art and decided to develop that ability by drawing and painting. I imagine a life where my childhood was kind and I went to art college instead.
Q. Do you work in a studio or from home?
I was working from a dining room which was fine in summer but very dark in the winter-time. After watching countless artist interviews and documentaries, I realised that Virginia Woolf was right - one needs a room of one’s own and a studio was vital for a committed artist to expand and make larger artworks. For the second-half of 2020, I had massive studio in Surrey, near Dorking and it was brilliant. After an encouraging meeting with a gallery director in London, I’m searching for a new space in East London.
Q. Who are your Art Influencers? inspirations?
Mark Rothko made me realise how important art could be. Chaim Soutine’s daring brushwork and vision encourage me to push things further. Helen Frankenthaler inspired me to take seriously the role of artist and art. Through interviews, Cecily Brown gave me practical direction for painting composition and subject-matter. Philip Guston and Charles Bukowski (a poet) showed me that even if you have a tortuous childhood (I did), you can still strive to be an artist.
Q. What helps get you in "the zone’ to create your work, music? out in nature? quiet?
Personally, I like ‘quiet' but, I do listen to classical music sometimes. Art history and paintings inspire me to paint, especially those from the era of impressionism, post-impressionism and abstraction. They responded to the camera by deciding to paint what the eye can’t see…by becoming creative rather than merely imitative.
Q. Do you keep a sketchbook? How often do you use it and do you travel with it?
Actually, I don’t - not in the way art students seem to be encourage to. But, I never went to art school. I have sketch pads and draw in them but, those drawings tend to be real attempts at a drawing rather than the playful sketchbooks you see around.
Q. Where does a piece of work begin for you? Can you describe your process?
It starts by being inspired by art history. I’m fascinated by the style and work of other artists. There are also subjects I’m interested in... like faces and trees…or an idea, like sadness or folly. These percolate until a desire to paint or draw expands and I want to act on that. When I draw, it starts very lightly with pencil and I add layers, including recently, charcoal. With figurative paintings I used to be very serious and use a grisai underpainting, but now I sketch a composition and then paint with an ‘ala-prima’ approach, trying to work in a painterly style rather than smoothly - which is an old habit. For abstract pieces, I apply a base layer of patches of colours - I don’t like the texture of the canvas to show - I want paint to be seen. Then, each brushstroke is a response to the base colour - something that either contrasts or coordinates. I’m inclined to be too thrifty with paint so, I often tell myself, “apply paint, apply paint...your job is to apply paint” so I get the brushy quality I want.
Q. What technique do you prefer to use?
For painting, something painterly and expressive. For drawing, it used to be quite measured and accurate but, now is more creative and looser.
Q. What are your most important artists tools?
I have a wide range of brush sizes. I used to prefer smooth ones but, recently tend toward the bristle brushes to get texture. There’s a Winsor & Newton palette knife I use a lot. One of the best things is a glass-top table I use as a palette - it's spacious and wonderful but, I still manage to fill it with mixes of colour.
Q. What are your favourite materials?
Any old pencil will do to draw. I’m really enjoying charcoal at the moment. For painting, I exclusively use Winsor and Newton water-mixable oil paint - it's absolutely wonderful, along with the mediums in the range. And, I just discovered Loxley canvases - just gorgeous and so well made!
Q. What are you currently working on?
My London show (December 2020). Its been a huge effort and hampered by the ‘issues’ in 2020. Art-wise, I’m drawing faces and planning a follow-up series to the current “Touch Me” collection of abstract-expressionist oil paintings. I have a few series in mind for the coming year but desperately need the new studio to start.
Q. Where can we see more of your work online or in person?
You can see most of the work through my website, VeryValerieEllis.com. I also post events and pictures regularly on Facebook and Instagram - the same name. Collectors can also come to my studio and have a look around.
You can also view a fascinating, previous in-depth interview with Valerie below :
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