Article Image: Blue Eyes
We recently visited Lucy Pittaway at her gallery in Brompton-on-Swale for the opening of her new exhibition. Every picture, with it's warmth, humour, and cosiness makes you smile. In this revealing interview, Lucy shares her positive outlook on life and art.
How did you feel when you won the Best Up and Coming Artist 2016 in the Fine Art Trade Guilds national awards recently?
I was so convinced that I hadn’t won it, that I had nothing at all prepared. There was nobody more shocked in the room than I was when my name was read out. I just had to take the microphone and wing it! I managed to accept graciously, saying both how shocked and delighted I was, and then went back to my seat crying!
How will winning that prize help you?
On a personal level, it is the first trophy that I have ever won so I am quite proud of it and I have something physical to show people. My seven-year-old twins both have more medals and trophies than I could ever imagine having, so it’s just nice to have one of my own! From a marketing point of view it really cements my credibility as an artist in the eye of the public.
A Cheeky Little Outing
Have you managed to work much through the last seven years having had twins?
Initially they totally took over my life, to the extent that it would get to lunchtime and I would be thinking, ‘I haven’t even managed to get dressed yet!’ They were a full time job in the early days. If someone was willing to let me have a couple of hours to myself, I would go and draw and paint. Even now, I feel like a super-mum, juggling work, painting, managing the gallery and the children. It’s quite a challenge.
Was that hard?
It was a bit of a conflict in my mind because inside, you know that if you don’t keep practising your art you lose a bit of your edge and the more you do it, the better you become. So in the back of my mind I was aware that I needed to keep making time to paint or I would never reach my goal of becoming a professional Artist. I had this dream of of a career in art but I was loving being a mum so much that I felt very torn. I could very easily have let my dream slip away but I made a conscious decision to spend as much time with them as I could before they started school and then I would go full time. Even now I still feel guilty if I'm not spending enough time with the children and guilty if I'm not spending enough time painting! It's a challenge to get the right balance as I know I will never get this time back with my young children.
You taught Graphics and Design for a while, was that another conflict?
I was quite frustrated teaching, to be honest. I loved the teaching aspect of the job but I didn't enjoy all the paperwork, the meetings, the politics, typing up of minutes, number crunching etc. I was put into a management position in both the colleges I worked at but alI I wanted to do was teach, so I could spend as much time as possible inspiring young people. I was very enthusiastic in my teaching. I loved to pass on knowledge and to see the students develop over time and to see the transition in their work. I just loved that. I was always trying to get back to the teaching element, but it became more and more about paperwork, which I just didn’t find interesting, so I decided to leave. It was a shame, because I got on really well with my students and loved teaching but that just isn’t the job any more. Too much paperwork can stunt your creativity and I thought the lessons were getting too prescribed, too much box ticking and proving that you were doing a good job, rather than just doing the job and letting the results do the proving.
Now that you have a certain amount of office work to do, and managing a gallery, does that get in the way of creativity?
Yes! It’s very challenging, I feel as though I am constantly spinning several plates. Although, I am already fairly used to that because I'm a mum! When I have really tight deadlines I will just lock myself away in my studio. If I come out, my husband will say, ‘What do you want?’ which means, ‘Get back in there and keep working!’
A Perfect Place by the Water
How did your particular style develop?
People say to me I have a very distinctive style, and I always think, ‘Is it?’ I just do what I do, and don’t really think about it. It wasn’t really intentional and it evolved over time. It was very much a natural process born out of lots of experimentation and life experiences. When my children came into my life, that changed my perspective on things. I was reminded how differently the young people of our world look at it. Sometimes you get so bogged down in life as an adult that you fail to see the colour, the vibrancy of the world around you. Most children live in a bubble, seeing things in a positive light and they taught me once again to look at life like that. If I really think about it, that is how my style changed and evolved, from them. I think my children unlocked something in the back of my mind and I suddenly realised I could paint in this new more illustrative way. It seemed to flow right through me in a way I had never felt before and I have continued to work like that because I really enjoy it.
This positive vibrant outlook, that your children have inspired in you, is that how you would like people to feel when they look at your work?
Yes. Lots of people say my work makes them smile. It's mostly very bright and colourful but it is interjected with other stand-alone pieces which are darker. We all have bad days, which certainly comes out in my art work but I like that also, it’s like bearing your soul. You can only live in a bubble so long! I do try to give a positive slant to my dark pictures too though for example strong rays of sunshine coming through the clouds, showing that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, or that there’s ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. I love to think that people connect with my work on an emotional level. I think I achieve that because I am honest in my work and my life’s experiences mirror those of many other people's; Love, loss, relationships, challenges, travel etc. People understand that the houses or the sheep in my work represent people and their feelings and the feedback I get is so positive and its very simply that which spurs me on to keep on painting.
By accident really! Before my photo-realistic period, I did very abstract work. I worked on very large canvasses which I cut, ripped, stitched together, embellished with beads, sand or stones etc. It was very mixed media and I wasn’t afraid of trying something different. Around about the same time that I picked up pastels and tried them for the first time, I also used oils. The first picture I created with oil paints is hanging in our sitting room! I worked with them about another three times after that. However with pastels, once I started working with them, I just couldn’t put them down! I love the way you can create a beautiful gradation of colour and create a sky that is perfectly blended but also that with no extra tools required, you can create such texture. I wasn’t so successful at achieving this with paint.
Are pastels easier to correct?
I wouldn’t say it is easier, just different. I don’t know how other artists would remove pastel, maybe with an eraser but I use a brush. In oils or acrylic I would just take a rag and wipe off the paint. So there is no mess way free to do either!
Your paintings are themed, say ‘Houses’, or ‘Sheep’ for instance, do other themes come into your mind?
Other things come into my mind all the time. I battle with the minutes and hours of each day because I have so many ideas I want to do and see through to fruition but I just don’t have the time. I have sketchbooks full of ideas but I have probably only painted ten percent of what is in them. I always wondered if I would run out of ideas but actually I have so many that I don’t know what to do with them. When I mention changing themes, people say no, no, there aren’t enough sheep!!
Of the ideas you haven’t followed through yet, which ones are closest to your heart?
I would like my children to feature in my work. I have painted one picture of them called, ‘I love you as far as the sun’ because that’s what they always say to me. I did that when they were about three years old. I would love to do more, based around their expressions and some of the words they come out with. When I talk to other mums, children do say very similar things, so I think people would connect with it. I feel that I am running out of time, and want to capture them while they are cute!
Your father has also been important to you, you painted a tribute to him?
Yes, it’s called ‘Father and Daughter’ and it’s a little lamb looking up at a sheep, with very dark clouds behind, and some rays of sunshine with red and white flowers in the foreground. My Dad used to play professional football for Middlesbrough in the 1960’s and 70’s. He was a defender and a very fit man who had always been sporty. Sadly he contracted Motor Neurone disease and battled it for six years before it took his life at age forty-nine. He was a very positive person throughout his life though. His footballing career was cut short by an injury, although he achieved the status of playing for England under 23’s and had four England caps before he had to quit. The red and white flowers in my picture represent the colours of his team and the rays of sunshine represent his positivity. He never said, ‘Why me?’ When I turned up to see him, he’d say, ‘Never mind me, how are you today?’ and I would think, ‘How can you ask that?’ I wanted to show his positivity and my pride in him.
Father and Daughter
Is this your motivation for raising funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and does your art enable you to do that?
Yes. I have had operations on both my knees due to a birth defect, so I can’t do runs for charity or major sporting challenges like many other people do for charity. Using my art was a perfect way to raise money for the charity.
Has your father’s positive outlook, also rubbed off on you?
His words echo in my mind a lot, particularly when I am working myself into the ground! I remember that work isn’t the be all and end all, and that I maybe need to ease back, give a bit more time to my family and to myself. Being busy painting, running a gallery, attending retail events and so on, can make a week easily pass without having any time to myself, or with my family. I sometimes feel like he is pointing a finger at me and saying, ‘Slow down, be careful and don't forget to enjoy life!
Who has had a big influence on you artistically?
I get my artistic genes from my mother, who is a very creative person. I tend to try not to look at other artists’ work on purpose, because I don’t want to have their work in my mind or for people to liken my work to other artists! But also it’s important to know who is out there and what's happening in the art world so I can't go around with blinkers on. Sometimes artists see it as a positive thing to be influenced by other artists but I see it differently and want to do my own thing, have my own ideas, and lead in my own individual way. Artist's will always be compared to one another though.
My influences come from my travel around the world, my children, my life’s experiences. Even a song can spark an image in my mind and suddenly there's another picture!
Door to Herriot Country
Is there a moment from your life you would describe as a turning point?
I had a very, very clear moment. I had always had the feeling that I was travelling along a path that was not necessarily the one I was meant to be on. On a dark, wet October evening, I was travelling home from college after a day teaching. The wind screen wipers were going ten to the dozen and I suddenly thought, ‘What am I doing? This is not what I was put on this earth to do.’ It was a lightbulb moment, of feeling like doing a complete 180 degree turn. So I went home and googled, ‘round-the-world’ trips. I needed to detach, get away from everything in my normal routine and open my mind to something completely new and different. The only way to discover what I was meant to do was to turn my back on everything I knew and start again. So I quit my job, rented out my house, sold my car. The Head from the college thought it was a quick decision and I might want to take my time over it, and told me my job would be here for me when I got back. I told him I would be gone for over a year, and wouldn’t want it back. But he still said it would be here for me if I changed my mind! I knew deep down though I would never go back there again. I was going travelling around the world on my own, on a voyage of self-discovery, and I knew I would never be a teacher again.
Where did you go?
I started off in South America, in Peru, then across to Spain because I had learnt some Spanish. I learned how to teach English whilst I was there and went to Thailand whereI taught school children for a while. I then went on to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, India and Japan. I loved Japan and Peru the most.
Did you know at that point that you wanted to be an artist?
I wanted to find a way of realising my ‘inner creative.’ When I was a teacher I spent my holiday times painting and people bought my work so I thought maybe one day, I might have a chance at making it as an artist but it is very competitive market so I was often doubtful. A regular income gives you security but chancing things in the art world, where you are not sure if you will get a commission or sell your work, seemed too volatile and risky. So it’s finding a way to make it work, overcoming the challenges and balancing those scales. When I came back, I met my husband, fell in love, got married, and before I knew it we were renovating a house and a mother of twins. For those few years I felt like my dream of becoming an artist was slipping away but my husband has been at me side throughout this journey and he always said to me that when the time came he would fully support me. So when the children went to school full-time, I decided that this was the moment to give it my best shot.
Sounds like you have had a real sense of what you wanted to follow, and being able to follow it?
When I was teaching, my students used to ask me what they should do with their lives after college but I wouldn't advise them because someone once did that to me and I didn’t choose the right path. I always blamed them, instead of myself so I think its important to be accountable for your own decisions in life. I said to my students that it was very much a personal decision and that if you love something enough, are passionate about it and willing to work very hard at it, you can realize your own dream. I would advise them to follow their heart and that he rest would come later. In the art industry, you do need to have some business sense but the first and most important thing is to believe in your talent and in yourself.