In today’s “Interview with an Associate Artist” we’ll be chatting to Tricia Findlay. Tricia exhibited at the Tate when she was 15 but left the world of art for a number of years before setting up her own award-winning interior design studio. She is now a full-time artist splitting her time between commissions and her own original pieces.
Steve: Tricia, thank you for taking the time for today’s interview, could you tell us a little about your journey into the art world and how you found pastels?
Tricia: I originally went to Art College but found myself working in the corporate world. After several years feeling unfulfilled I retrained and set up my interior design business. After 15+ years, Brexit and the start of the pandemic made me rethink my journey and by accident I found myself watching some pastel videos online. I decided, with the support of my husband, to close-down my interior design business and concentrate full time on painting. Previously I’d worked in pencil, ink, & acrylics but when I first tried pastels and Unison Colour pastels in particular, they were a revelation. I love the immediacy of using pastels, no drying time and how easy they are to blend.
Steve: You are particularly known in pastel for your stunning animal portraiture, what is it about this genre that attracts you? As an artist does your work have a message for the world or is there something you particularly want to achieve through art?
Tricia: Growing up overseas I was lucky enough to always be surrounded by a host of different animals from your standard, cats, dogs, & horses to the more unusual camels, scorpions etc. I have always loved all wildlife (perhaps with the exception of cockroaches) and their amazing beauty. When I first started capturing them in pastels it was more about faithfully recreating the reference image I was working from. However, I’m now looking to explore and learn more about their characteristics & habitats, and the connectedness we all share with the natural world. I would love people to experience my art through fresh eyes and peak their interest in learning more about the natural world around us.
Steve: Is there a particular project that you are working on at the moment or have planned?
Tricia: My work has been increasing in size so decided to go the opposite way and I’m currently working on a mini series of bird paintings, concentrating on British birds mostly and challenging myself to keep as much detail as possible even though they are small in size.
Steve: How has your style changed in any way as you’ve developed as an artist and do you see your work going in any particular direction in the near future?
Tricia: In respect of my wildlife works, I’ve developed my skills to include backgrounds so my subjects are often seen in their natural habitats – helping to set the scene and highlight the need for conservation of both the animals themselves and the habitats they rely on. I’ve also moved to working on larger statement pieces which help make a greater impact when you’re painting something like an elephant etc.
Steve: What is your greatest artistic triumph / achievement?
Tricia: Being an introvert, the thing I’m most proud of is live painting at various events/exhibitions. If you’d asked me a year ago if I would ever consider doing this, I would have screamed and run a mile. I plucked up the courage when I took a stand at Goodwoof 2022 (a weekend of all things dogs related). I found that I got lost in the work and when I did turn around was amazed to see a crowd of people who had stopped to watch. Their positive feedback was lovely and made the whole process less scary.
Steve: Which other artists do you particularly admire and what is it about their work you are drawn to?
Tricia: In my art college days I was always drawn to artists who had mastered light and shade, so Rembrant & Joseph Wright (of Derby). A more contemporary artist is Edward Hopper who again is all about the effect of light. I love his Nighthawks and Morning Sun paintings. These artists draw you in through the shadows to reveal beautiful details. I’d like to develop my skills more to start creating some wildlife pieces along these lines.
Steve: Why Unison Colour pastels? Do you have a particular favourite from the range?
Tricia: When I first started in pastels I was working solely with pastel pencils (Stabilo & Faber-Castell). As the size of my artwork increased, I realised I needed to move to soft pastels so first tried Rembrant, but then saw some videos of artists using Unison Colour pastels. The first thing that drew me to them was the colour range. I bought a few and once I’d tried them realised these were going to be my ‘go-to’ brand.
Picking a favourite is difficult. I love all the bright colours but probably my favourite is Grey 8 – I use it a lot in my darker artworks.
Steve: What is it like being a Unison Colour Associate Artist?
Tricia: I did hesitate before I applied to be an Associate Artist (AA) – again due to my introversion and fear of the unknown. Helen who used to organise all things AA related put me at ease straight away and the whole team at Unison Colour have been very supportive. It has pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and I’ve now completed two video tutorials for their Pastel Academy. I would recommend others to apply, you won’t regret it.
Steve: If you were to offer one tip and one thing to avoid for a beginner to pastels, what would they be?
Tricia: One tip would be to experiment with your pastels thoroughly to see what you can create. When I started out, I wanted to master them immediately, which of course was unrealistic. I think it’s important to play around with them without the added pressure of creating a masterpiece. With every painting I do, I’m always learning a new technique so it’s always evolving. The other tip would be if you have invested in full size Unison Colour pastels, break then in half before you start using them. It took me almost a year to do this as I couldn’t bear the thought of snapping them. However, they are much more flexible to use and give you lots of lovely shapes to work with as they wear down.
Steve: Are there any tools or particular pieces of equipment that you use with your pastels that you wouldn’t want to be without.
Tricia: I love the Sofft tools for blending, both on my backgrounds and the subject itself. I also use paper blending stumps and a range of natural brushes – the latter are particularly useful if you want to soften your strokes without blending them too much.
Steve: Which papers do you prefer working on and why?
Tricia: I’ve not been very adventurous exploring different papers. I started on Clairefontaine Pastelmat from the outset, and it really suits my style of painting, allowing me to build up lots of layers to reach the level of realism I’m after.
Steve: Do you think that social media adds to or detracts from the world of art? Same question but linked to the development of an artist?
Tricia: Social media can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand everyone expects you to be on it, so I’d say it’s a must have. On the other it can easily swallow up hours of time if you’re not careful, and you’ll end up being dragged into the Matrix! It has helped me promote my art, share my experiences, and make new friends (albeit virtually) all over the world.
I also feel it can be a useful tool in researching new methods and techniques and certainly there’s a huge raft of inspirational work out there – so I’m all for it.
Steve: Do you enter competitions and curated shows – if so, are there any tips you can share in getting your work accepted – If you don’t enter, why don’t you do this?
Tricia: I entered my first worldwide pastel competition last year. I’ve also taken part in a curated show and plan to do it again this year. I’m not sure I know the secret to getting your work accepted – I would just encourage everyone to enter competitions & shows, read the brief/criteria carefully and select a piece of artwork you are particularly proud of and hopefully your passion will carry you through.
Steve: We’re going to finish by having an in-depth look at one of your pieces. The piece you’ve chosen is ‘Lift Off’. – Please talk us through it.
Tricia: I’ve selected this piece as I love these colourful kingfishers and have a passion for drawing water as well so thought this would make a good subject. I also wanted to challenge myself with the water splash.
The piece is 29 x 29 cm (11.4” x 11.4”) on light green Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper. I used a mix of Unison Colour soft pastels and Stabilo & Faber-Castell pastel pencils.
I started with the background blending various Unison Colour pastels to create a soft-focus look and masked off the waterline to get a nice straight line before starting on the water blending the basic colours but leaving the splash until later.
I then started on the kingfisher itself, which as it’s quite small is done using pastel pencils.
Finally, I was ready to start on the water splash and I wasn’t far into this when I realised it was going to take me longer than any other part of the painting. I was eager to see the final result, but had to force myself to slow down if I wanted to achieve a realistic splash.
Once I had the basic splash in place I worked on the darkest areas and highlights to really bring the water to life. I remember from my A Level art class realising that the areas next to the highlights are often the darkest and this is what really helps make it look realistic.
I also discovered that part of trying to create a realistic texture is sometimes not about including every detail. Sometimes a more gestural stroke or blended mark of pastel will achieve the same result. I found it worked better if I just let go of some of the detail to achieve the look and feel I wanted.
Once finished, I felt I’d taken my skills up a notch. When I first started using pastels I wouldn’t have taken on this sort of challenge but I loved every minute of it. It got a lot of interest on social media and the original was sold shortly after finishing it – which is always the icing on the cake. I now have limited edition prints available and frequently get asked if the original is for sale. I guess this means I need to find my next Kingfisher challenge.
What would I change about creating it? (other than magically having more originals to sell !) – nothing really other than not beating myself up about how long the water splash took. Slowing down isn’t a negative and can help create a better piece of art.
Steve: Tricia, thank you so much for the insight into your work and into you as an artist, as well as the invaluable tips. For those who wish to see more of your work, where can you be found?
Tricia: I’m on all the usual social media channels, have a website, and take part in various shows throughout the year, which can be found listed on my website.
Surrey Artists Open Studios: surreyopenstudios.org.uk/artist/tricia-findlay