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An Interview with Matthew Draper

13 July 2015

How did you come to choose pastel as your medium?

Whilst studying at art school I used to go out to draw the landscape to gather information which I could use in the studio afterwards, I took pastels out with me and worked in a sketchbook as I found this medium the best way to gather information about colour. Coming back to the studio afterwards I then tried to work in paint, but as time went on I realised that I found pastel medium to be more versatile. I think for me pastels are far less complex than paint, it suits the way I approach making work. Ifound that that the pastel drawings I made were better than my paintings!

You work with your hands on the paper I understand?

Yes, I work with my fingers, and all parts of my hands and even my forearms, it is for me a very physical process. When you look at my work, the marks and the surface I create, are not typical of how you usually see pastel used. It's very painterly, and thickly applied, because of the way I build up the surface. I don't generally use the ends of the stick to draw with, to draw shape, I rub the end of the pastel on my thumb. My fingers are my brushes!  Often I work on a large scale, up on the wall, not on a table, I mix colour on the paper, the paper becomes almost like a painter's palette as well as the finished object.

What is your starting point for a drawing?

The images are all about landscapes that I know, I often return time and time again to places to familiarise myself with that landscape and aspects of it, for instance the quality of light found there. I often go hillwalking or camp in places so that I can really get into the landscape, In a sense I am searching out things, the weather, or dramatic light, or the way the weather moves across a landscape. I draw while I am out and I do take photographs, but tend just to use them as a back up. I go back into the studio with an idea of a definite composition in mind, so the starting point is a fixed place and the events that  I have witnessed. The act of drawing and starting a piece of work then takes over. Often a moment of serendipity occurs through the way the material is being applied, or through simply applying colour. These things all play a part in the process, and in themselves can dictate where the drawing goes. I want people to see that I do have a knowledge and understanding of those places, an association with the place, that I have been there and experienced it. I want them to really feel the images are about those places, a keen sense of the place, and that I am capturing moments in time.

When you are 'capturing moments in time'  are you also trying to evoke the passage of time?

Yes they are about place and time, It's not that one of those aspects is more important than the other. I want them to be descriptive of and not illustrative of, the places I choose to work about. They are not a 'picture of' although I am fundamentally an image maker.

Light is very important to you isn't it? What is it about light, the light on the landscape?

The light is the principal subject of all of the work I make, whether it be about the landscapes in Scotland, Cornwall, Edinburgh and recently London. I make work about my home the British Isles which is a land of may contrasts. Different places have a different light, as I am acknowledging those differences making work about the quality of the light helps me to evoke the essence of that place.

Where did that interest in light come from?

If you are going to be a musician you've got to find out what kind of music you like, a writer needs to read books to discover how to create their work, which ever way you choose to be creative you have to have a starting point. When I was looking at art, trying to understand it, it was the work made by those artists who work with light that I found most interesting and exciting, I suppose their work resonates with me. I hopefully make quite dramatic, moving work, and the quality of light or sometimes lack of it is a tool that allows that drama to unfold. Looking at artists of the past, and understanding how it is that their work inspires me, is extremely important to learning about the language of image making and how to approach making your own work. These artists were also image makers, they made sure that they experienced the elements and completely understood their subjects. Artists have to do this to be able to make work, you have to bear witness to something, and then by creating an image you are allowing someone to share that experience, a true feeling of that experience. Although there's a lot of interpretation from the viewer's point of view also.

You have also said you work instinctively, rather than methodically. What does that mean for you?

I don't have a preconceived idea of how something is going to end up looking. If you do, you make life hard for yourself, almost impossible!  I have a composition in mind, I try to make sure that my approach to each work is different. It has to vary, depending on the individual work or idea. I want the individual works to be different or contrasting depending on the places they are about, to acknowledge those differences that we see within landscape. What I mean by being instinctive is, that sometimes you just have to make sure you're not thinking too much about it, just lay down colour and make marks and get started somehow. You have to be willing to change the work get rid of elements or add others, to then expand upon that start.

Is each work then like an unknown journey?

Yes that is a really good way of putting it. I don't want to have a formulaic process or preconceived starting point, because the work would end up being all the same. What I hope is successful about my work, is that although you can tell it is mine, each piece feels and looks different. My last exhibition called 'Metropolis to Wilderness' where I attempted to make a body of work about the contrasts found in the urban and rural areas of the U.K is a good example of this. My approach to the London work had to be different to the Scottish work, and that wilderness of the West Coast of Scotland. Otherwise an attempt to make a comment on how different things are just wouldn't have worked.

Is your heart with one kind of landscape, say built or natural?

I like both equally, I am just interested in exploring and finding out new things. The important thing about choosing to make the London work is that I have been making images about my home city Edinburgh for a long time now, it made sense to me that I should visit other urban areas. I explored London over a long period of time looking for good vantage points, sometimes you are in the position when you don't see anything that interests you, no matter how hard you look you just don't experience anything that excites or inspires you. I realised that this subject meant that I would be making more complex images, because I wanted to capture the hustle and bustle of that city.

It sounds like you enjoy the versatility, the discovery of new things?

Well it's great to discover new places and travel in the U.K. you do have to make work about the things you know best. I might consider going to other parts of the world and people often make suggestions, but there is enough to interest me here at least for now. I also like revisiting places I have worked on before, and seeing how I my approach has changed and the end results have progressed. For example I studied in Falmouth in Cornwall and then moved to Edinburgh, but then ten years later went back to make a whole exhibition about Falmouth again and found my approach to that previous subject matter of mine had completely changed, I was looking at it differently, I was looking at different aspects of that place. I hope if you look at the work I have made over that last twenty years that the viewer will see its development, that it has become stronger. Drawing is a discipline, you need to spend time learning your craft and understanding your medium, I imagine it must be similar to learning to play a musical instrument, and trying to play it really well. 

Do you have colours you really like?

I wouldn't say I restrict my palette I have a huge range of colours at my disposal all of the time, although I don't tend to use much green. Obviously depending on the landscape the colours that I use change, but there are definitely some colours I use a lot the wonderful range that Unison Colour make for example, I have a selection of most of that particular pallet as I find it has obviously been influenced by the colour found in the British landscape. There are a few that I keep buying because say if I want to make a blue warmer I use one of those lovely orangey-yellows, I can't tell you which one off the top of my head! There are too many of them! I sometimes I make a whole piece of work that is predominantly about one colour that can also be a staring point.

If you were to give someone advice on how to capture light in pastel what you you say?

The most important thing is to look hard, and look more than you actually draw. You've got to get out in the landscape and experience it, and find a way of recording the things you see that suits you, so that if you are working in a studio you have enough information, you can never have enough information. Also you've got to think not just about the source of the light in your image and the lighter areas, but also just as much about the darks. Making the light work is as much about playing with the darks, as it is about playing with lighter areas. You can really exaggerate and capture that sense of light, by using colour and tone. Most important of all is that it's about practice and spending time creating work again and again.

Have you got any unrealised artistic ambitions, something you would love to do?

That's the most difficult question. I like to work on an even bigger scale somehow, although how you present and frame the work is then a challenge. I think actually my ambition is a simple one, to just be able to keep on making! To explore more and more and more, to keep travelling, to keep going out into the landscape and discover new things. More than anything though, to make better and better work, even more dramatic images.

What would you like your work to be remembered for?

I suppose I want people the think they are good drawings above everything else, and I would like to be remembered as someone who makes work that creates an emotive response in people, It's quite simple really! I hope when you look at my work, what you see is what you get that it explains and conveys it's subject. I get asked more and more to talk about it, but I like to let the work do the talking If it doesn't convey those things it's not doing its job, or I'm not doing mine!

Why is that emotive response important for you?

My own reaction to landscape is emotional, that's the reason that I make work about landscape and place. It's that emotion and feeling I experience, that I try to capture within the work. People often say that my images feel like the place, if that happens I know I have achieved my goal.

Is there anything else you want to say?

An artist has to find a medium that allows them to execute their ideas. Making art it is about the balance between an idea, and the way you execute it.For me pastel is the medium which allows me to do exactly that. You find this balance by finding your own way of using your medium. You have to make your medium your own!

For more information about Matthew Draper's work: His publications can be purchased from, or visit his web site at or follow the artist on Twitter @mattdraper_art

The Artists next major exhibition will be held at The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh in Nov 2016.   

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