AN INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST, LUCIA SMITH
I am delighted to start my Behind-the-Easel blog series with an interview with Lucia Smith, an artist local to me, based in Ilkley, Yorkshire. I met Lucia a few years ago at an outdoor event where she was doing an art demonstration; I was instantly drawn to her ability to capture the feel of the landscapes I have grown up in and around; the landscapes I am happy to lose myself in whenever I can. I also remember being completely in awe of her pastel boxes; seeing the vibrancy of the colours, the worn, loved pieces of pastel all together – there’s something quite magical about them.
Here Lucia tells us about her art, her processes and her inspiration, as well as her current “quest”. It’s an honest, and insightful read, one which I am honoured to have on my blog. There’s a photo of that pastel box too, so do take a look!
COULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK FOR US, PLEASE?
I paint the glorious Yorkshire Dales in all seasons and all colours! I aim to capture the feeling of being in this glorious place, climbing that hill, enjoying that moor, watching those clouds. My paintings include accurate representation of landmarks and moors and contours, but I also simplify reality in order to focus on light and weather, and the movement of the scene: when the breeze blows and the shadows chase across the heather.
Soft pastels are my key medium; I love their vibrancy and immediacy. I start by carefully planning my composition, pinning down my vision, rhythm and colour palette for the painting.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) is on my doorstep, and it is full of variety, wild open spaces, pathways, ancient routes, geological wonders, fabulous skies, meandering rivers, valleys of grandeur and valleys less known. Being amongst it all is somehow restorative and soothing, uplifting and re-energising, all at the same time. The YDNP slogan is ‘breathing space’: I strive to capture this in a painting to put on a wall.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING AN ARTIST?
It has taken many decades! I’m mainly self-taught using short courses in all sorts of techniques; eventually stumbling on soft pastels when studying portraiture. They are a fabulous medium: vibrant, flexible, and forgiving. I have now developed my own techniques of underpainting and priming before applying the pastel layers; but I continue to experiment. I’m working with my fine art printer at the moment to develop some mixed media ideas so that my original work won’t always have to be glazed; you can follow all about that on my social media.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Quite a long time ago I spent some years in Australia: this experience seemed to give me a new eye for intense light and drama, and it has stayed with me! I think this helps me find exciting colours whenever I’m in the Dales, whatever the weather. And this then helps capture the magic of being there, the feeling of being there. The feeling of being on an open moor with the breeze in your hair, the ascent making your legs ache, and that cloud about to move and change everything. The profound joy of it all!
Being a co-founder of Ilkley Arts in 2011 gave me the confidence to embrace being a full time professional artist and realise that my focus and inspiration were indeed the Yorkshire Dales. I now need look no further. I can literally look out of my studio window and see Ilkley Moor.
Many years ago I came across a quote by the iconic landscape painter John Constable, he said, ‘I paint my own places best’ and I totally agree! To paint well I need to know a place, feel it, explore it: and only then do I have the knowledge, and perhaps the gall, to paint it boldly. And so I stay focused on the Dales.
These days, more than ever, I think we all know that spending time in open spaces is good for both mental and physical health. Being able to share the spaces of the YDNP through my paintings feels like a great honour.
I’D LOVE TO KNOW WHICH ARTISTS YOU ARE INSPIRED BY, OR INFLUENCED BY?
Too many to mention! I am influenced today by both professional and amateur work, and questions from my students keep me on my toes, constantly thinking and evolving. I love that.
Early influences were the Impressionists, particularly Monet. I once took a train from Birmingham to London just to sit in the National Gallery and spend some time with one of the huge Monet Lily Pond paintings; it offered me head and heart space away from city-living when nothing else could! (at that time I couldn’t access open countryside, though I could get between Birmingham and London!)
CAN YOU DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY FOR US? OR PERHAPS LET US KNOW WHERE YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO WORK IS?
I always need to walk before I work. Not just big walks out on the Moors to gather fresh views, but also quick walks around the block to clear my head and get in-tune with the issues currently on my easel.
My studio is in my home, just off the kitchen. I like my work to be available to mull-over during non-working days. It is often in those in-between times when the solution to a painting suddenly appears; maybe more colour – maybe less, maybe more vibrancy -maybe less, maybe more shadow, or less tone. I need to live with my paintings to let them develop as a whole.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
A couple of years ago I launched myself onto a ‘QUEST’. It is a journey really, rather than a destination: to explore and then paint ALL the named Dales in the YDNP!
I asked the rangers at the YDNP for help: and the list was rather daunting, there are 49 named Dales in all.
The project is pushing me to explore other places within the National Park, remote places and less favourite places, such as Colsterdale, Apedale, Skegdale and Grisedale (there are so many!). But each has its own character and sense of unique space. It is sometimes quite a challenge to work out what to capture, and from what viewpoint. I am finding out so much as I go along; ancient history, recent history, geology and so much more. I am writing blogs to record some of it all; they are all on my website if you’d like to learn more.
DO YOU EVER SUFFER FROM “CREATIVE BLOCK” AND, IF SO, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?
Of course! Whatever work we do, I think we all have our un-motivated days when everything feels hard to get started. But I have developed some ways of getting round it so that it doesn’t cause me too many problems. When I don’t know where to start, or how to, I simply make the positive decision of doing something, anything; just taking some action. It’s amazing how once you start, things happens, and motivation appears. Paintings begin.
My Father, who was a successful academic, took regular daily ‘thinking walks’ around the block. I learnt in my teenage years how much these help. He also greatly influenced my love of the Yorkshire Dales; and I love that there’s a continuity of that in my work.
IF YOU COULD CREATE A PIECE FOR ONE PERSON (CELEBRITY OR OTHERWISE) WHO WOULD IT BE?
Oh wow, what a question! It would have to be someone who greatly values our planet earth and all the beauty it offers; someone who understands the vital importance of that. Could I dare say David Attenborough? Gosh, wouldn’t that be a privilege!
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR PEOPLE CHOOSING ARTWORK FOR THEIR OWN HOMES?
My suggestion is to think about what you would like the painting to do in your home; what presence you would like it to have, what ambience you would like it to create.
Mull-over your thoughts and be honest. When taking on a commission piece I love that conversation with my clients: teasing out their honest comments is such an insight and one of the joys of commission work. It can get quite personal!
But once the above is acknowledged, then a viewpoint, location or scene usually gets pinned down, and colour and mood follow. Then it’s time to get out a tape measure and work out a good size for your wall, and a good ratio (height and width). All of this information will help any artist enormously when creating a bespoke piece: never be afraid of contacting an artist to see if they have work available that might suit. All enquiries are extremely welcome!
WHERE CAN WE SEE, AND BUY, YOUR WORK?
My website is a great place to start:
I also exhibit regularly at Tamara Lawson’s Gallery in Ilkley:
My bespoke range of limited edition prints are available either direct from me or at Weaverbird Workshop in Ilkley:
And my greetings cards are available all round the Yorkshire Dales National Park, including all the YDNP Tourist Information Centres.
To see what’s going on in my studio each week, follow me on social media:
Facebook: Lucia Smith Artist
Or contact me direct!