Welcome to the blog of Melanie McDonald ! I'm a professional artist, my life is divided between my home in Newquay, Cornwall and my renovation project - an 18th Century farm - in North Brittany, France. My inspiration comes from the beautiful beaches, skies and seas of Cornwall, Brittany and Scotland. This is where I share my paintings and photographs, I hope it inspires you.

November 20, 2010

Inside the Painter's Studio.

Inside the Painter's Studio. 
Where I imagine I'm being interviewed by New York artist Joe Fig.

When did you consider yourself a professional artist, and when were you able to dedicate yourself full-time to that pursuit?

It was a subconscious thing. I'd been hooked into a family business and had been struggling to get free of it for 10 years. It was the day someone asked me what I did and I said 'I'm an artist', just like that. About 8 years ago, although I'd been painting full-time long before then.

How long have you been in this studio?

About 2 months. It's the kitchen in a farmhouse dated 1779 in Brittany. It has an original belfast sink in the corner and one cold tap. It faces south so the light is good. I can make as much mess as I like because the house is going to be gutted. I've had eleven studios, my studio gets moved from room to room in whatever house I'm living in. I'm going to build my dream studio in the space where the agricultural hanger is.

Has the studio location influenced you?

It's near the sea which influences my well being and is my subject matter. My life is much quieter here in France than it was in Cornwall. I have time to concentrate on my work.

Please describe a typical day, being as specific as possible. For example: What time do you get up? When do you come to the studio? Do you have specific clothing to change into?

I get up at 7.30, take my daughter to school and the dogs to the beach. The morning walk is a ritual, it gets my head in the right place to start the day. I look at the light, sea, sky, birds, shells, rocks, nature in the raw. Back at the farmhouse, it's the usual things involving strong coffee, the news, emails - I'm in the studio around 10. I wear paint splattered jeans, trainers, various layers and a woolly hat in winter. I work on the floor or stand up at an easel until 6-ish. In the evenings I mess around on the internet looking at paintings, reading reviews and blogs. It's 24/7 really.

Do you listen to music, the radio, or TV when you work? If so what, and does it affect your work?

Music is a big part of my day. I have music on, otherwise I start thinking morbid thoughts, (laughs). I listen to Cd's. - slow stuff in the morning Cave, Cohen, Antony, Bjork - getting louder and less specific in the afternoon. How can you watch TV and paint? In your book you say that some artists listen to audio books while they work, I'd love to be able to do that.

What kind of paints do you use?

A mixture. Acrylic, oil, house-hold, ink, gouache, watercolour. As long as it's light fast. I'm not brand specific. I like to mix things up and hope for the best. I've given up doing experiment samples because I can never reproduce the same effect.

Do you have any special devices or tools that are unique to your creative process?

Yeah, all artists have special tools. I don't use brushes very often, or palette knives. I use household products like squirters, cereal packets, sponges. I try to recycle, I cut the bottoms off plastic water bottles to mix colours. I let wet canvasses drip on to other canvasses so I don't waste paint.

Are there specific items that have significant meaning to you?

My old Bose music player, Cd's, clock, dehumidifier, large mirror. I had a Chinese paint brush which I used for flicking white paint to make sea spray. It disintegrated recently, after about 20 years. I try not to let it seem symbolic, it was just a paintbrush.

Do you work on one project at a time or several?

I work on one project at a time but on several paintings. I have an idea, make sketch notes in an A5 notebook. Then transfer the idea on to 3 or 4 canvasses in slightly different ways. I work on them all for about 3 weeks in thin layers. I refer to photos, computer print outs, sketches - but mainly I paint quickly by instinct.

When you are contemplating your work, where and how do you sit or stand?

I never sit. I'm always standing or wandering around. After a while one of the paintings will catch my eye and I'll work on it until it's more or less finished. I look at it upside down and in my large mirror; it's like seeing something with another pair of eyes.

How often do you clean your studio, and does it affect your work?

I clean when I've finished a project or when I'm going off travelling for a while. It doesn't affect my work, I'm a messy worker.

How do you come up with titles?

Since reading your interviews I've thought about titles a lot. My titles now have more narrative. I like words and descriptions. I write down quotes from songs, books, poems, anything - in a random way and mix them up a bit for the title of a painting. The words push the viewer in a certain direction, I don't mind that. I hope the viewer doesn't either.

Do you have assistants?


Did you ever work for another artist, and if so, did that have any effect on the way you work?

No, but I took part in an art course with a couple of women artists in west Cornwall. They're both formidable contemporary painters who I admire a lot. They gave me an insight into work practice and how to approach this art life thing. They opened my eyes to personal language in regard to painting, to be bold and instinctual.

Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?

Live in fear (laughs). Anything can happen at any time. Go to the studio, work hard, assess your work, do the best you can.

What advice would you give a young artist that is just starting out?

Set up a studio space. Keep overheads low. Look at what other artists are doing and talk to them. Visit exhibitions. Keep open-minded and work hard.

Inspired by his book. Inside the Painter's Studio. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 2009.

Other posts you might like:
You are my daughter.
Beautiful Brittany - photographs of the Cotes-d'Armor, Ile de Brehat and Le Conquet in Finistere, Brittany.
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