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An Interview with Victor and Glenys Ambrus

8 August 2016

Article Image: Pink Cloth with Herrings by Glenys



You draw from life, why do you prefer to do this rather than say photographs?

I wouldn’t do it any other way. I was trained that way and if you want to get close to the subject it is better from life.

Do you talk to your subjects?

We don’t usually unless to say, " Are you O.K. or would you like a rest?"

The Girl From La Mancha

It must be hard to stay still. Do they move around a bit?

Every hour we give the model fifteen minutes to rest. The atmosphere is one of quiet concentration.

How do you adjust for the small movements such as blinking etc. that people make while you are drawing?

Nobody is immobile, and people change after the breaks, so I just allow for that. I also draw animals for illustration, and they never stay still, but they have strong habits, and come back to the same place. So waiting patiently until they return is a good training.

Do you need to work quickly to capture them?

Yes,very quickly, which is also a good training.

Is it frightening to work quickly, in case you make mistakes?

No, not really. You don’t worry if it is going to be perfect or not. You just do it, and hope for the best!

Sigemi in Kimono

So do you need to relax when you are drawing?

Yes, you do, but it is also quite concentrated.

Tell us a bit more about your illustration work.

Everything comes from your visual memory. I have done two kinds of illustration, for children’s books early on, and historical illustration, which I do a lot of now. For instance, I have been given a week to do an illustration of Thomas A Becket being murdered by the knights. So that is quite pressurised. But when I was with the Time Team it was even more so, as everything had to be done there and then, fast and furious. You didn’t know what was coming! It was very interesting.

When you are illustrating, do you always work from your imagination?

Yes, it would be impossible to pose things. You couldn’t even attempt to, say for instance, get three or four horses, with chaps on their backs, slashing away at each other to pose!

Do you have a preference for illustration or drawing from life?

It is much the same really although when you are drawing from life, it is a fight to get it right. When you are illustrating, if it doesn’t work out you can always begin again. But I rarely do this as it takes too much time as I often have thirty or forty illustrations to do.

Chef with Pheasant


How would you describe your relationship with colour?

Colour is everything to me, I just love using colour. If I have a model, I usually prefer them to wear their own clothes. They rarely come in something undrawable. Occasionally I will cover something up with stripy sarong cloth, such as black trousers.

Which particular colours do you love?

I love all colours, although I don’t like dark maroon, as I don’t think it goes with flesh tones. I think that comes from my childhood, when my mother wouldn’t let me have a pale blue dress, as it wasn’t serviceable and bought me a dark maroon one instead. I have had an aversion to that colour ever since!

I do like blues, I usually start to draw up with a steely blue.


You work in oil and pastel, how would you describe the difference?

Pastel is very versatile, you can draw with it and paint with it. In pastel I am not using thick background colours now, I usually use the board itself as background. I used to do ‘wall to wall’ pictures, as Victor calls them. Although with oil you have to. Sometimes I use a backcloth behind the model if there is something disturbing there like a pile of chairs.

Flowery Dress

You also, always work from life, what is your view on that?

I find it very difficult to work from a photograph, even in landscape. It can end up very stiff. I work outside, especially in the garden.

How do you cope with changing conditions, such as the light?

It doesn’t worry me. It changes every five minutes in England anyway. I just ignore it. I use the landscape to make a picture, so I don’t care if the sun comes out one minute and is gone the next. I focus on the shapes of what I am looking at.

Flower Bed - Summer

Both Victor and Glenys:

How did you meet?

Glenys: We met at the Royal College of Art.

Victor: It was the Underground.

Glenys: Well it was the Underground where we actually spoke to each other! I was going back to my flat with a sleeping bag, and we saw each other. Actually we were in different departments at the College, I was in the painting school, and Victor was in the graphics department.

So you have always had a shared interest in Art, what is it like now having been married to another artist for nearly sixty years?

Glenys: It’s like having another pair of eyes. We are always conferring with each other.

Victor: You get another opinion, which means a lot. And we always ask questions of each other.

Do you think you are better artists because of that support?

Glenys: It really helps to be able to talk about your work and bounce off ideas.

Are you competitive at all?

Glenys: We work differently, but I don’t think we are really competitive.

Victor: We work in different directions.

Glenys: We each have our own ideas and how we go about things. We were taught differently. Victor had a very academic start in Hungary. My teaching was not so strong, more free and easy.

Why do you both do portraiture?

Glenys: It’s a challenge, looking at someone, and trying to put down how you feel about them, trying to get everything right like the proportions You’re not trying to think of the inner person of the model, but how you see the person. Occasionally someone will say a portrait doesn’t look like the person, and I say that it how I have seen them. We all see things differently.

How has your work changed over time?

Glenys: I think I am drawing more graphically than I used to. I used to treat pastel as a paint. I tend to draw more with them now. It depends on the model also. With some models you want to use more line. Drawing from life is a challenge. 

Victor: I wish I could draw like I did twenty years ago. I appreciate my early work. I got the heads just as I wanted them.

Glenys: I think you are being a bit too critical. It’s almost the more you learn, the less you know.

Do you let your models look as you draw?

Victor: Oh yes. In the breaks they get up and look. I once was drawing a gorilla in zoo. He got up to have a look at what I was doing, and came up to the fence. Someone behind me said, ‘Show him what you are drawing!’ So I did. He looked at it and went back, so that was alright! Another time I was drawing a parrot. He was standing on quite a long stick, and began to move side wards up to me to look at my drawing.  Suddenly he reached forwards with his beak, took the pencil out of my hand, snapped it in half, and walked off!

Regent's Park by Victor

Would you ever think of retiring?

Victor: I don’t think there is such a thing as retiring. There is a difference between work and the artists’ profession. Work is something you might want to retire from. Drawing isn’t. I consider myself very lucky. I have known people who have retired from work and don’t know what to do with themselves. I enjoy what I do. I will always carry on drawing.

Glenys: Yes, absolutely.  It’s a pleasure.


Fallow deer in Regent's Park by Victor

How do see young artists today?

Glenys: I am quite puzzled.  Sometimes, you see a lot of heads that look as though they are drawn or painted by the same hand but actually done by several artists. Very photographic with every pore or blemish detailed.  Maybe they are more concerned with techniques than how you see the person. I find it quite impersonal. They all seem to be the same. For example, why do a huge portrait, why not just do it life size? When we were young, drawing was much more important. We were encouraged to draw. You had to explain yourself if you weren’t at a class. In the seventies that all stopped. When I did adult education classes, I used to get students from the art college, who wanted to draw, and they weren’t getting any at college. I think it is so important to draw from life. A model is moving all the time, so then you get life in your drawing. You can have some search lines, but they just add to the life of the picture.

Victor: Photo-realism is a big fashion. Almost anybody can do that, with a bit of patience.

Glenys: We have started doing portrait workshops,drawing from life. There are about fourteen of us. You can hear a pin drop in the room.

Mari by Glenys

Blue Spotty Scarf by Glenys

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