In the studio with Claire Failes

From studying in Stroud and being highly commended in the Macmillan Prize for her children’s book, to taking inspiration from the Gloucestershire countryside to create stunning acrylic landscapes, SoGlos goes in the studio with Claire Failes, aka DrawingonReality.

Tell our readers a little about yourself and where you’re from, Claire.

My name is Claire Failes and I’m an artist and illustrator working under the name DrawingonReality.

I’m originally from Kent, lived in Northamptonshire for about six years, but for most of my life – the last 25 years at least – I’ve lived in Gloucestershire.

The first 20 years in Kingswood, Wotton-under-Edge and for the last five years, in the depths of North Nibley near Waterley Bottom, where I work from my studio in the garden.

DrawingonReality is a fitting name for an artist who uses her location to inspire her work. How would you describe your style to SoGlos readers?

Traditional, realistic, tenacious and detailed. My subjects are nearly always to do with the world around me. I have a liking for organic forms, whether they are linked to the natural world, found objects that have slowly been constructed over many years or simply the contours of the land and how our patchwork of fields or the distant hills relate with one another.

What materials work best for you?

As I have a tenacious nature, detail is important in my composition. My paintings are built up in thin layers of acrylic paint.

I often start with blocks of colour and get into the image by using my fingers to smooth and rub the paint into the surface, which is possibly one of the reasons some people think my work is in pastel.

I work from dark hues to lighter and brighter hues as I layer up the work.

In contrast, when I occasionally work in watercolour and pen, it’s much faster and lighter than my acrylic work, and with watercolour I work the opposite way around; from light to dark hues.

It all sounds very technical. Did you do any form of training?

I’ve been an artist most of my life in one form or another, but full-time since I finished my degree in 2005. I did a fabulous Access to Art course at Stroud College and then went on to do my degree in Illustration at the University of the West of England.

Who have been your main artistic influences?

Many artists and illustrators have inspired me over the years; people like Andrew Wyeth and Kurt Jackson, and illustrators such as Emma Chichester Clark, Helen Oxenbury and Posy Simmons.

But I do have a particular leaning towards the 17th century Dutch artists like Vermeer, Rembrandt and Willem Kalf, to name but a few.

Now, I’m inspired by my vicinity. The beauty of the Gloucestershire county constantly informs what I do. I aim to give a sense of place to all my landscape and garden paintings.

Do you have a number one ambition?

I have lots of goals, I suppose. I would like to see my work published in some way.

Have you achieved anything in your artistic career that you are particularly proud of?

I got a highly commended prize with my picture book, Anna & Ed at university from Macmillan. It was about a girl called Anna and her favourite teddy bear Ed, who goes missing when she’s out shopping with her sister. I haven’t done many children’s books recently but it was quite an accolade at the time.

That’s impressive. So who would we find at your exhibitions?

All sorts of people, mainly in their middle years, but some youngsters too! Young art students come occasionally and usually have lots of questions for me.

When I open up my studio, it amazes me how far people will come and how varied they are; it’s always interesting to hear about why they came, what they do for a living and so on.

Do you have a favourite gallery in Gloucestershire?

I think it has to be New Brewery Arts in Cirencester. There always seems to be something extraordinary being exhibited there.

What’s the best exhibition you’ve been to?

Some of my favourite exhibitions have been in London. Rembrandt sticks in my mind; it was great to get up close with such an iconic old master.

The Magic Pencil, which was a collaborative of contemporary famous illustrators, was also fantastic. That same day, I also went to an exhibition in Dulwich to see the work of Arthur Rackham. His exquisite illustrations are so evocative of the tales he’s portraying.

Are there any Gloucestershire-based artists you rate?

If you mean my contemporaries, there are many. Some of the artists I would champion from Gloucestershire are those I did the Access to Art course with at Stroud College, with some of us going on to university.

Take a look at Diane Young’s illustration. Jilly Cobbe’s work is great too; she has excellent drawing skills and focuses on birds. Also Rachel Markwick, who now specialises in creating images with postage stamps.

We’ll check them out. So what pearls of wisdom would you share with emerging county artists?

To be tenacious, keep going, learn from your mistakes and get a little bit thick skinned!

Where can SoGlos readers see your work in the near future?

I’m exhibiting with three other artists as a collective called ‘Foursight’ at Westonbirt Arboretum Great Oak Hall from Tuesday 8 to Sunday 13 October 2013. Find out more by reading A Natural Selection exhibition at Westonbirt Arboretum.

I will also be opening up my studio in North Nibley from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 December 2013, between 11am and 4pm. My studio is in my garden, so if anyone does want to come along on an ad hoc basis they are welcome. It’s just best to give me a call first, and there are no guarantees it will be tidy!

And finally, what can we expect a year from now?

The only concrete things I have at the moment are the Severn Vale Art Trail in May 2014 and I will open up my studio again during the first weekend of December 2014. Other than that, I will take opportunities as they come along!

For more information call Claire Failes on (01453) 519181, email or visit directly.

Plus, don’t miss the In the studio with Claire Failes photo gallery too.

By Shelly McCatty

© SoGlos
Monday 16 September 2013

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