Behind the Easel – Rebecca Harrison

Behind the Easel – Rebecca Harrison

INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST, REBECCA HARRISON

Discovering artists like Rebecca is the reason I love spending time on Instagram. I discovered Rebecca in lockdown last year and not only do I love her work, but I find her integrity to growing a value-based business inspiring too. There’s a clarity and vibrancy to Rebecca’s work which I find so up-lifting. Her seascape paintings are a particular favourite of mine; with strong yet soothing colour palettes I feel drawn in, transported to the water’s edge. But Rebecca’s portfolio is extensive, with a wonderful range of architectural illustrations too. Her background in architecture clearly provides the basis for these detailed illustrative works but she achieves a subtle balance between simplicity and detail.

I’m delighted to introduce Rebecca and her work to you. In our interview she shares her journey, her inspiration and how the past year has influenced her work with a longing I’m sure many of us have felt for escapism, a desire to get-away, to breathe more easily.

PLEASE COULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK FOR US?

I’m a self-taught, intuitive artist and at the core of my work is a longing to evoke a sense of peace, calm and freedom for my clients/customers. I’m one of those ‘multi-faceted’ artists/people – a term that has become a trendy way of saying ‘I’m more than one thing and have more than one skill’ – like most, if not all of us! 

I’m currently deep into working on a collection of ‘paintings from above’ or as someone very creatively expressed to me recently ‘seagull’s eye-views’ of the ocean and beaches. This latest body of work is inspired by a personal and collective ‘need’ to get away, after what feels like a long and impactful year, the affect of which I am sure won’t show in many of us for some time to come. I have been sensing so much desire, almost desperation culminating for a holiday at the moment, to fly to some place far-away from home where we can breathe more easily and relax more freely. I think we all need a bit of healing and rest from the shift in perspectives that holidays offer us. My most recent paintings are my way of bringing that to my audience. I believe that art has a power to evoke feelings and influence energy within a space and within its observer. They are meditative pieces and escapist pieces that I hope bring peace. 

I work in varying mediums including but not exclusively acrylics, oils and pastels and within my illustrative work I use fin-line ink pens. There is a contrast between the detailed hand-drawn illustrative work that I do (often architecturally themed which comes from my professional background or pet portrait commissions inspired by my love of the joy that dogs bring) and my more expansive and free painting style, specialising in seascapes and landscapes.

I’D LOVE TO KNOW A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO BECOMING AN ARTIST

Having always expressed myself through using my hands and being creative as a child, I veered away from my pencils in pursuit of a ‘proper job’ after listening to the prolific narrative of the ‘starving artist’. I also didn’t believe in myself, so I never saw art as an option when I was growing up. I chose to study Architecture at Newcastle University and it was there actually that I picked up a paint brush for the first time (obviously I chose the more creative rather than the more mathematical course!). This path led to a career in Architectural Visualisation which I enjoyed for a decade, working with some of the worlds most influential Architectural Practices on bringing their visions and drawings to life in CGI’s. 

For the latter few years of my career in Architecture, I had a growing sense that perhaps there was more to explore within my creativity and essentially it became more imperative to me that I back myself and go and see what’s possible with my own vision, take control of my own time, future and business than the very real fear of letting go of the ‘security of a job’ was. To cut a long-story short, the balance tipped, and I quit my job in January 2020 and went full time with my business.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

Inspiration is everywhere. I think it’s about being present and curious. I’m an observer and a deep feeler and I can be inspired by the smallest of things. Usually though, I get my energy and inspiration from nature, from the elements, landscapes, rhythms and seasons of the natural world. I grew up on a farm so I think wanting to be outside is just something that’s in my bones. When I lived in London, I often got the urge to go and plant myself on the grass in a park, I would just lie there and feel better (more like me) after a while, being close to the earth. 

WHICH ARTISTS ARE YOU INSPIRED, OR INFLUENCED BY?

I’m inspired by anyone who is being true to their passion in life, be that in a creative industry or otherwise. As a teenager I was very much influenced by Henry Moore though, I love his heavy bronze sculptures and forms but I also really think his sketches influenced my own style of illustration. I’m a huge fan of Quentin Blakes illustrative style, it’s so fun and characterful. When it comes to painters, I’m drawn to atmosphere and depth so Turner is an obvious one, but I came across a guy in Whitby last year actually who I think is doing amazing work, he’s called Adrian Wright, he’s an ex-soldier who sustained a severe injury and found art through therapy. He’s so talented and what a story – that’s inspirational, I think. 

CAN YOU DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY FOR US?

I don’t really have a ‘typical’ day but I am disciplined with my time. When there’s a business to run there is always something to do! I have certain things I need to do within each month to keep the cogs turning so I spread those tasks out over the 4 weeks which leaves enough time and space for my creative work, commission work and the unexpected projects that pop up. An example of a day would be waking early and enjoying a cup of tea in bed before heading out for a run over the fields where I don’t see a soul – I run alongside a river and up an old roman road before heading home for a shower and breakfast. This is the best start to a day, one that starts with fresh air and exercise, it sets me up and energises me. I’m usually in my studio by 9, I’ll log onto my PC respond to emails and then pack any orders that may have come overnight (I design & sell cards/prints/wraps through my own website and ‘friends of Joules’ too). The rest of the day will either consist of working at the computer on the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff of business or I’ll have made space for painting/commission work in which case, I’ll turn my phone off, put a podcast/music on and get into a mind state where I don’t feel like I’m being pulled away. I’ll have lunch at 1 for half an hour and return to the studio, working usually until 5/6 before locking up and most recently heading out to play tennis or simply being outside, perhaps going for a walk or chatting with friends. I try to honour my weekends by not working but it’s not always possible. If I feel I need it, I will delete social media from my phone for a weekend. It can be all-consuming running a business and I try to give myself headspace away from it where I can, so that I remain focused and fresh.

DO YOU EVER SUFFER FROM “CREATIVE BLOCK” AND, IF SO, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT? 

I don’t expect myself to feel inspired all the time and there is always plenty of work to be done that isn’t so creative but yes sometimes I want to be producing creatively and I struggle to find the ‘on’ switch!

I think we can get stuck in our heads too often, trying to think our way out of a problem or into creativity, inspiration and motivation and I have just learnt over time that it doesn’t work that way for me. Creativity comes from freedom, not through thinking too hard or trying to force it. I swear by getting outside, a bit of fresh air always does wonders. Often, I just need a change of scenery, to step away from technology and work and go outside for a walk, averting my brain and eyes elsewhere – that usually does the trick!  

IS THERE A PIECE OF ART YOU’VE CREATED THAT YOU’RE PARTICULARLY FOND, OR PROUD OF?

Usually I am most proud/fond/attached to the latest piece I’ve created, I suppose that’s common. As we evolve and our work evolves, we hope that we’re getting a little better each time. Right now, I’m really in love with my latest collection (Soar, being one of them) as it speaks to how I feel at the moment and where I want to be, artistically I think it’s interesting too.

I can look back on previous work and feel proud too though. I’ve been commissioned to draw lots of dogs and I’m really fond of many of them as they’re so characterful and I can sense the personality of them and joy they bring to their families, that makes me smile and knowing they’re loved gives me a sense of pride. There is also one particular painting I did nearly 15 years ago now of a scene I took a photo of myself. I was cycling around the outer Hebrides with a friend and we were just pulling into our accommodation for the evening on the edge of the ocean, the light was absolutely stunning, there were cows grazing in front of the setting sun and I thought to myself ‘I must capture this’ – thankfully I managed to get a photo in time and when I returned home, I painted it…it’s still in my parents’ kitchen and I still love it as it takes me back to that moment and place and it’s sort of a multi-sensory experience every time I look at it because I remember the light and the wind and the smell of the sea air…I think that’s the beauty of working on personal commissions for clients now, if I can recreate a memory of a place or take them away to somewhere else in their mind then I think that’s where the magic lies. 

IF YOU COULD CREATE A PIECE FOR ONE PERSON (CELEBRITY OR OTHERWISE) WHO WOULD IT BE? 

Interesting question, I’ve never thought about this. My ambition with my work is for it to connect with people on a meaningful level. It’s the best feeling in the world, knowing that whoever owns my work is totally in love with it and as it’s creator, I have to accept that they love it for their own reasons; we all carry our own memories, history, stories and life experiences that get projected onto artwork. I heard a musician describe this process similarly recently, he said as soon as his work is in the public domain, it is no longer his. I think that is true of artwork too, it’s very personal. There are people whose creative work I absolutely love and devour, that I have gained so much value from myself and I would love to give back to them creatively in this way but I would want my work to do the same for them, which isn’t guaranteed. I’m going to back out of answering this question for that reason!

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR PEOPLE CHOOSING ARTWORK FOR THEIR OWN HOME? 

I am very much an advocate for designing our interior spaces with their psychological impact in mind; we can use colour, lighting, artwork, plants, proportions, and materials to evoke feelings within a space. Whether you are designing your space, décor and styling around the artwork or you are looking to find artwork for a space, my top tip would be to ask yourself how you want to feel within that space, what vibe do you want to induce? Kitchens/dining areas are usually much busier than living/sleeping areas for example where you want to relax and unwind. Is the space one that you want to feel inspired, calm, rooted or free within? Is it a slow and gentle space or a lively and energetic one? Narrowing down your desired atmosphere for a space to say 3 words can be a really helpful starting point for either choosing a piece of artwork or commissioning one and from there you can start to think/talk about tones, scale and scenes. I’m always happy to guide clients through these questions and provide consultations when required. 

LET US KNOW WHERE WE CAN SEE, AND BUY, YOUR WORK? 

My website is a great starting point www.rebeccaharrisondesigns.co.uk and I’m also active on Instagram @rebecca_harrison_designs where I try to share some ‘work in progress’ videos from time to time and often share my inspiration on Instagram stories; think nature appreciation, lots of waves crashing, interesting sunsets, skies and generally anything peaceful that I’m enjoying on a walk.

BEHIND THE EASEL – LUCIA SMITH

BEHIND THE EASEL – LUCIA SMITH

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:

www.luciasmith.co.uk

I also exhibit regularly at Tamara Lawson’s Gallery in Ilkley:

www.tania-tamara-lawson.co.uk

My bespoke range of limited edition prints are available either direct from me or at Weaverbird Workshop in Ilkley:

www.weaverbirdworkshop.co.uk

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

Instagram: @lucia_smith_artist

Or contact me direct!

07833 257540 

Email: luci@luciasmith.co.uk