We recently met Alex Fleming, a Wildlife, pet & equine artist. Alex creates incredible realism using pencils and pastel and became a finalist for SAA Artist of the Year 2021.
Q. Your work is incredibly detailed and we love to watch your process on social media. Have you always worked in pencil and pastel?
Thank you! Colour pencil and pastel were in fact both quite recent additions (around two years ago) to the list of media I use. For 12 years, I'd pretty much been exclusively a graphite artist, with the occasional (awful) attempt at acrylic painting thrown in! I used to mess around with photography on a very basic level, and felt I was missing out by never being able to use colour when drawing in graphite. I branched out into other media for this reason, and also to offer my commission customers a little more variety and choice.
Q. You were a finalist for SAA Artist of the Year 2021, How does that feel to be recognised for your work?
While simply being able to support myself as a full-time artist is reward in itself, being shortlisted for anything is icing on the cake. It's evidence you're doing something "right" I suppose, something to which it's worth cracking open a beer in celebration, and will always give me a real buzz!
Q. Where do you get your inspiration from? Do you have any particular contemporaries?
I started my intentional learning by reading "Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil", by J.D. Hillberry. Many of the principles outlined in this book have never left me, and I'm still mindful of them today.Aside from this, some key figures have included Keith More (graphite), Dylan Eakin (charcoal), Clare Parkes and Stella Mays (pastel), Marissa Oosterlee (several media) Tom Strutton (colour pencil) and Paul Cadden (for his "hyperrealism" style).
Q.Do you work from home or a studio?
I work from home! I'd like to expand, as sometimes working in the confines of a small box room can be a bit of a challenge, but I've optimised the amount of space available as much as I can, and can continue working away on large-ish format pieces for the time being. One of my goals is to end up in a building separate from our house, even if it's a shed in the back garden; complete with north-facing window, comprehensive storage for tools and media, the whole works!
Q. Can you describe your starting process of creating: do you listen to music? Quiet or Movement to get into "The Zone?
As my work is quite detail-oriented, I need regular breaks, otherwise my head starts hurting, so I rarely get into "the zone"! I'll divide my day into half-hour chunks, incorporating a very short break to walk around, do a small house chore, that sort of thing, before sitting down again for another half an hour. I'll listen to podcasts most of the time, as chat is the thing I'm missing on a daily basis. If my energy levels start to drop on an afternoon or evening stint, I'll sharpen up by playing music (loudly, through earphones - not advised, unless you enjoy a spot of tinnitus).
Q. Do you keep a sketchbook?
I've never sketched. This is one of the things my GCSE art teacher would string me up for! I'm not like those Proper Artists who go by feel and just seem to know proportions effortlessly and innately. I make a work plan, set my proportions using the grid method, and dive into my "final piece".
Q. What techniques do you prefer to use?
The grid method is something upon which I rely heavily. If I have a strength at all, it's as a problem-solver, so if there's a hurdle my skill set can't match, I'll figure out a way over it. Techniques vary from one medium to the next, but I'm very taken by the pastel medium, for its really forgiving nature, "blendability" and vibrancy. Blending will be achieved using brushes, tortillons and sponges. A messy medium, but hugely satisfying!
Q. What artist tools are the most important to you?
I suppose erasers are the most important tools, as they can give your work a completely new dimension and sense of life. Even the simplest charcoal sketch will "pop" with judicious use of a kneaded eraser. Get to know different types of subtraction techniques, using tools like cotton swabs (non-plastic), tissue paper, tortillon, precision erasers, kneaded erasers, chamois leather, or any "everyday" acid-free items that might do the trick.
Q. What are your favourite materials/tools?
Aside from the erasers listed above, I also swear by: Staedtler Mars Lumograph (graphite), Wolff's Carbon and General's Compressed (charcoal), Faber-Castell Polychromos(coloured pencil), and Stabilo Carbothello and Unison (pastels).
Q. You are currently living in our home town of Blackpool! How would you view the creative community here?
I'm more subject-based in my community engagement, rather than location- or medium-based. The wildlife/animal art community is thriving currently, and I've made quite a few friends over the last couple of years in sharing the joys of these subjects.
Q. What are you currently working on?
It's the middle of September as I write, so Christmas commissions are coming in thick and fast! It's something for which I'm tremendously grateful, and I hope this shines through for my customers as I try to really treat them. If it's a local complimentary pet photo shoot, a loyalty or unexpected extras, I enjoy providing that sort of thing when I can. Aside from this and other small specialised series, my "Wildlife" project is a lifelong one, with 10% of profits heading to various animal charities. There are currently around 20 completed works as at the end of 2021.
Q. Where can we see more of your work?
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