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An Interview with Ann Oram

26 June 2015


DId you decide to become an artist, or did it just come about?

I decided fairly early on, when I was about five, because I loved doing art so much, without really knowing. The minute I walked into Edinburgh College of Art, it was like coming home. I just knew it was the right thing to do. If you weren't an artist can you imagine what else you might have done? I think I am a maker, I like working with my hands. I would have to make something. I don't know what though. I'd love to sew but I don't really have time for that.

How would you describe your work?

I would say mostly it has a lot to do with colour, which is what I am probably best known for. But also still life, buildings, architecture, and landscape more and more. Where we live now we are surrounded by fields and I have got to know them through the seasons and I am really loving that. It is filtering into my work quite a lot.

How would describe the similarities, or differences, between what you enjoy about still life and landscape? How would you compare them?

In still life you have got far more control. In landscape, things are always changing, which is exciting. I was never drawn to landscape when I was younger. But when you are out in it you are in touch with the elements, either it's a blisteringly hot, sunny day or it's misty and that excites me.

How do you go about choosing which medium you will work in?

The subject can dictate what I want to work in. There is terrific manoeuvrability with oils because they are wet for days, unlike acrylic which dries quickly. With acrylic you can use other things with them like inks or textured paints. You can also build up textures with them. I don't tend to use pure watercolours or pure pastels very much, but I combine them. I can water Unison pastels down and use them like watercolour. or I can use wax crayons or even a candle with them to get a wax resist. which is fascinating because you can't really predict the outcome. You've got wax, and puddles of pigment drying, and you don't quite know what will happen. It's a bit like going out to do a landscape, you don't quite know. I think also if I am getting bored with one medium I hop over to another!

What happens in your mind when you don't know what's going to happen, does your mind work quite quickly?

Sometimes it's better working quickly because you can capture things. But sometimes a puddle can take up to a day to dry, so then I like to leave that undisturbed and come back to it the next day when it can conjure up something else. The rhythm can change,you can work very fast at the beginning, putting things down and then the process might slow up a bit and you're spending more time thinking than doing.

Do you have a moment when you know the work is finished?

Yes! I say when I am teaching, it is difficult, because you can always think to yourself, "I can improve on that!" But if you do too much crossing t's and dotting i's it can make a picture boring. My husband is very good! He comes in and says,"Stop!" It's easy to overdo things. I think when you reach a natural halt and think, "I cant do anything more just now" it's best to put it away. Then come back to it in another week, and if you think, "Yes that is alright!" then it is the time to stop.

You find a natural resting point?

Yes, not knowing what to do is a signal. Put it away, and look at again in a week's time. You may see something needing done, or you might look at it and think its just fine.

Do you ever get bored or stuck while you are working?

Yes I can. If I haven't got a new stimulus in my life, I can get very stuck and find myself looking towards old ideas, but it's best to be evolving. So I either go and see an exhibition and get myself fired up or climb in my car with my paints and your sketch pad. It gets me out of my studio and a stuck mindset, even if its not what I will end up making a huge group of paintings from. You've worked in quite of lot of different countries, Italy, Spain.

How has this made a difference to you?

Recently I have been to India, quite a different thing for me and I am still not sure how I am going to tackle it. It's good, it changes my thinking on things. Just being in another culture changes the way you think about things. Seeing quite different things, that are not usually part of my life in Scotland was good. Anything that challenges how you normally are is not bad. I can have a small bit of resistance but travelling is a good thing to do.

Do you feel resistance some times?

I was slightly unsure about going to India, uncomfortable with it. People tell you stories about it. Yet I absolutely loved it. I loved the colour and the people. People coming out of brightly painted mud huts in tiny little villages. Children, beautifully clean and dressed, smiling, ready to go to school, and happy, which was a treat to see. There were difficult parts too, but from feeling very nervous about going, I would definitely want to go back!

Do you keep an open mind and know yourself very well?

It's about taking an opportunity. A friend asked me if I would like to come and join them in India. Five years ago I might have just stayed put, but not now.

Do you enjoy teaching, or is it mainly to boost your income?

I don't do a huge amount of teaching, just bits and pieces. It's not the main thrust of what I do, I enjoy teaching. I have made lots of friends that way. Also it is nice to be able to spread the word, to be able to pass something on. For instance my next course is on using oils, giving people those skills, and when I come to Unison in June we will be working with mixed media. I can give people those skills which they can then go off and use.

Do you think anyone could be an artist if they wanted to, or do they have to have some inherent talent?

I think it depends on what you class as an artist. I am slightly ambivalent about that. Everyone can paint, but I think the main thing is to enjoy it. That's all you need to do. I could learn to sing or dance, and it wouldn't take away the enjoyment from say being in a choir. Being an amateur artist you will probably enjoy it more than being a professional artist, where you have a whole different set of things to deal with. and then it depends on whether you are up for that or not!

How do you go about the process of making an exhibition?

It depends on the gallery, some are happy for you to do exactly what you want, others like to have a discussion before hand. We might talk about the number of paintings, sizes,or the subject matter. For instance the exhibition I am doing in the Cotswolds in July is to be still life and they want Indian paintings. Next year I am painting cities for a gallery in Edinburgh. They didn't want still life and flowers! What would be the one thing you would like to do that you have never done yet, it could be artistically, or anything in your life? I would like to have a studio two or three times the size and work on some very big landscapes, of water, lakes. I want to go and look at Monet's waterlilies, the huge paintings that he did. I would like to work on that kind of scale, something that takes up the whole wall even through they would be difficult to show, store or sell!

What are your top tips for working in pastel?

Flowers: Have the right selection of colours on hand. I believe Unison is working on a beautiful magenta. Then when you have a spray, fix the colour on them before you are finished, and then you can keep building on that, adding top notes of lighter colours for instance. Otherwise the colours will start mixing in.

Landscape/buildings: I don't differentiate between landscape and buildings. Try working on sandpaper, or a textured paper for paste, something with a bit of tooth in it. This gives a different look from on paper, more depth, texture and richness which are exciting things to experiment with. Although you then use a lot of pigment, you end up with a sumptuous painting at the end. Maybe I will do a little course at Unison where we work entirely on sandpaper!

Any last thing you would like to say?

Whatever you do, just make sure you are excited about it! Not the feeling of, "I had better get on with this." Doing things that really, really excite you will enable you to stick with them.

Ann Oram is doing a mixed media workshop on July 18/19th. Get in touch to find out more

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