In today’s “Interview with an Associate Artist” we’ll be chatting to Lucy Brangwin. Based in Spain, Lucy is particularly known for her atmospheric seascapes and is happiest painting next to the ocean. A self-taught artist, Lucy paints in her studio overlooking the Mediterranean and has commissioned works on display all over the world.
1. Lucy, 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?
Thank you for having me Stephen.
I only came into the world of art a few years ago purely by chance, as I was walking past an Art shop and saw a pretty box of 45 pastel sticks. I had no knowledge of them whatsoever, no idea on how to use them, but something about them made me stop in my tracks. Serendipity? I bought them there and then despite knowing nothing, and having not even done art at school!
I have had a couple of “sliding door” moments in my life and this was one of them. I may never have tried art had I not walked past that particular shop with that particular display that particular day.
I quickly taught myself the basics purely by trial and error. I very soon fell in love with the immediacy of creating my work with pastels and the direct connection you can feel by just using fingers. Using soft pastels is the most direct and raw way of expressing myself. That is the beauty of pastels – no brush as the middle man!!!
My academic background is in physics, as I know yours is too Stephen, and I had a career in International Banking too, so what started as having a go at a new hobby quickly took over into a new and fulfilling full-time job. But then I also believe there is a big crossover between a scientific brain and an artistic brain – but that is a whole other subject…..
So over the next couple of years I grew from painting at the dining room table, and constantly hoovering up pastel dust so my pure white cat did not turn all the colours of the rainbow, to being lucky enough to have a large and light space under our house where I now have a purpose built studio.
2. You are particularly known for your seascapes, what is it about this style / 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?
I always remember reading a quote from Jules Verne when I was young: “The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides” which for some reason has always stayed in my mind.
I have always felt a natural affinity with the sea and I am at my happiest near water and it resonates with me so deeply. As a child we moved many times, I lived in various parts of England and Wales, but we were always on the coast. Now I live on the coast of the Mediterranean. The smell of the salty air and the sound of the water is intoxicating to me: whether it is calm and still, or rough and raging, it always remains beautiful and always calms itself.
That really is a thread through many of my seascape works also, I strive to paint a feeling, and usually that feeling is of calm. I want to paint a scene that I would love to jump into, to feel it, to settle my soul. I get so much joy from clients telling me that my work generates a sense of peace and relaxation in them too.
With seascapes there are so many feelings that can be portrayed with the ever changing light and the ever moving water, the changing moods, the changing beauty. So the chance to paint scenes I love, full of light air and hope keeps me returning to the ocean, wherever I am in the world.
3. Is there a particular project that you are working on at the moment or have planned?
I have several ‘Series’s´ on the go at the moment, continuing my ´Seas The Day´ study of yachts and my ‘Love Is…..’ Series. The latter is a fun series that depicts either young love or a feeling of staying young at heart, depending on your perspective, and they can be hung either way up. So far I have five or six planned but keep coming up with more and more new additions.
I also enjoy returning to my triptychs – they end up 1.5 wide once framed and are a beautiful way to work on a larger sweeping scale.
I always have a million plans in my mind for new works though as my mind is constantly bubbling with new ideas. I try and write them down if I can’t sketch them, I have started notes on a Sunset Crush Series too….. Many ideas come to me in the middle of the night either through my dreams or through a sleepless night – another curse of a creative mind.
I love including my romantic hand holding couple in many seascapes too, they are my collective muse.
But it is such a lovely feeling to start a new day in my studio full of excitement about a new blank sheet of paper.
From the ‘Seas The Day’ Series
4. 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?
I hope that my style will always evolve and improves as I still have so much to learn and so much to try. I think complacency is the enemy of any creative process. I love the sense of satisfaction and achievement in looking back at pieces I produced when I started my pastel journey and comparing with more recent work. Although my profile picture across my social media is still my second ever painting that I produced with my first box of impulse buy pastels. It is a good reminder of how I have progressed but also a happy reminder of how I started.
5. What is your greatest artistic triumph / achievement?
I think the day that I heard I had been selected to become an Associate Artist for Unison Colour back in 2020 was a huge achievement for me. And a huge surprise !!! I had only really been using pastels for a couple of years at that stage so it was a huge boost and really changed the course of my career as an artist, and inspired and encouraged me to work at it full time. I had admired so many of the other AA´s previously and thought I didn’t belong in their esteemed company. But then can you even call yourself an Artist if you don’t also suffer from Imposter Syndrome?
6. Which other artists do you particularly admire and what is it about their work you are drawn to?
I love the well known Impressionist pastel artists like Degas and Mary Cassatt, especially how Cassatt changed and shaped the way for future female artists. She was heavily influenced by her close friendship with Degas and did also venture away from the Impressionist movement. But she suffered dreadful sadness in being unable to paint in her latter years as she tragically lost her sight.
Another artist I love seeing, although a watercolorist, is Sir William Russell Flint – there is always such a magic to the light he creates.
I also adore and admire many of my contemporary pastel artists – too many to mention, but they know who they are…
7. Why Unison Colour pastels? Do you have a particular favourite from the range?
I have to say that my love for pastels, as well as my ability went up several notches the day I first used a Unison Colour soft pastel. Their quality, reliability and superior blend-ability sets them apart from less costly options. Their buttery softness is a joy to work with and I find the depth of pigmentation, due to a lack of binders and fillers, is perfect for my work.
My first set I bought was the Portrait 1-12 Set – not because I paint portraits but because it contained bright light peaches and pinks and I was planning a large commissioned seascape using those tones. One box and I was hooked!
I have since been lucky enough to be able to increase my Unison Colour collection to the point where I use them pretty much exclusively for my work, although I still dream of owning the full set one day… I am slowly building up my perfect Sunrise to Sunset beach set of shades.”
Picking a favourite is a tough choice. I would have to say the one I get through the most is probably the deliciously positive colour of Blue Violet 9 and the instantly brightening and freshening Additional 7 or Grey 27 but even in saying that I feel I have missed out other favourites. I use the whole Additional 19 – 36 set too.
One thing is that in 95% of my artworks there is a bit of pink somewhere. Sometimes almost a secret wisp of pink, and other times I go for unmistakably pinker than pink. But I would love to create my own Perfect Pinks collection.
For me Unison Colour are the brand that I will never be without.
8. What is it like being a Unison Colour Associate Artist?
It is so many things. It is inspiring. It is motivating. It is the sense of responsibility to spread the Unison Colour love and show their versatility and encourage others. It is an honour to produce video tutorials for the Pastel Academy.
It has given me the confidence to start teaching both locally and online. I am proud to be associated with, and representing, such an authentic Company which started from John Hersey’s absolute passion for understanding and perfecting tone and for light. And the quality is maintained by the handmade process and original recipes which are still continued to this day.
I love being a part of such a talented group of artists and seeing that no artists use them in the same way. We all use them differently to express ourselves, and that to me is exactly what art should be.
Just before Helen Bullock left as Associate Artist Manager at the end of 2022, a small sub group of AA’s was put together. I was very lucky to have been included in that group. We have zoom catch ups. We often chat daily, swapping tips and triumphs as well as pains and problems. It is a group that is genuinely good for the soul and it feels that it is far far greater than the sum of its parts. Most of us have not yet met. Although as we speak we are shortly due to all have a long weekend away together – we are all from different parts of the UK and Spain but we are including an exciting visit to Unison Colour HQ so we will all get to see our beloved sticks being made in person, and maybe Unison Jim will let us roll our own too!
9. If you were to offer one tip and one thing to avoid for a beginner to pastels, what would they be?
Firstly: Paint from your heart. I think if you follow your heart and paint what you love, with truth and integrity then you will produce fulfilling art.
Heartbreak and heartache can also play a part in really feeling your way into a painting, it can bring a necessary touch of darkness or depth and balance, to balance the light. I am sure a heart that has been broken has more space. It feels more, in both good and bad ways.
I also get reminded how I felt on any particular day I painted specific pieces when I look at them, whether things were stressful that day, or painting on a day when everything was singing to me.
Secondly: Always be inspired but do not try and imitate artists you admire. Take time to develop your own style and it will come from the heart naturally.
And finally always, always, have fun, relax and enjoy the process.
10. Are there any tools or particular pieces of equipment that you use with your pastels that you wouldn’t want to be without.
Not so much tools, as my tools are really my fingers and great quality pastels. But I do paint to music. If art is what feelings look like, then music is what feelings sound like.
I play a wide variety of music, from classical to up to date songs. I often stand back and look at a piece in progress, to assess where I am and what needs changing, and music helps me do that. If a particular piece I love comes on then I have also been known to sing like no one is listening and dance like no one is watching, then returning to the painting either happy with the way it is going or else knowing what needs fixing.
Music and art are the two soul foods I cannot do without.
11. Which papers do you prefer working on and why?
It depends on the subject I am painting. For a big flowing soft seascape I often use Canson Mi-Teintes large sheets in a contrasting tone. But for more detailed work, like close up yachts, I am now using Canson Mi-Touch and Pastelmat, and I have started buying this in large sheets also. I still plan on experimenting with more sanded surfaces too.
12. 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?
Social media can be a fickle beast. I try not to become too weighed down by it as it is ruled by ever changing algorithms. I try to detach myself from the numbers as they can be fairly arbitrary if you are not paying for exposure. So I prefer to think of it as good platform that can produce good results but what is important and of value to me is not the number of likes or followers, but the the genuine engagement. My record, which I don’t think I will ever beat, was to sell a piece within 2 minutes of posting it live on Instagram. It shows how someone can just feel something instantly for a piece of art.
I also greatly enjoy following other accounts and having positive engagements and discussions across a variety of subjects.
13. 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?
Juried shows can be an exciting and scary thing to enter. Putting yourself out there to be judged takes a lot of courage, especially to an untrained artist like me. But I also think it is good to push yourself out of your safe comfort zone too, in order to progress and to improve. You have to have a fairly thick skin and accept that art is such a subjective topic, and the way anyone interprets a painting can vary and may be an unknown combination of what they are feeling that day on top of what your artwork makes them feel. Some days it will be a beautiful and successful alchemy, other days it will mean rejection.
This summer, for the first time, I am taking part in a collaborative exhibition in an Art Gallery near to where I live, and I will be one of several featured artists. That will be a new and scary proposition as I am planning on including half a dozen artworks.
So my tip is this:- do enter shows, do enter competitions, do get your work out there, but with one caveat: only paint what is authentically you, do not to try and create what you ‘think’ might get chosen.1-18
13. We’re going to finish by having an in-depth look at one of your pieces. The piece you’ve chosen is Father and Son. Please talk us through it (anything you like really), your working process, things that might be of interest to those new to art or pastels and what you consider to be successful about it. If you were to do it again, would you change anything?
The piece I will talk through reflects that end of the day feeling on a summers day: kids asking for just five more minutes to play after a day exploring rock pools or enjoying the sea, versus an exhausted parent knowing it is time to get going.
The juxtaposition between the warm and the cool palette is also more defined than in a lot of my softer pieces.
I used Canson Mi-Teintes in a warm creamy tone and a fairly limited palette of Unison colours mainly from the Grey 1 – 18 Set and the beautiful vibrant Orange 1 – 6 Set, adding Grey 27 and yellow from the Lights range.
1. I started by shading in a soft muted grey toned sky but with some dramatic clouds showing the fading light on this calm evening.
2. The second photo shows how I started to draw in some rocks and start with the cool reflections.
3. More foreground rocks were added. The water in the foreground is much greyer than the sky, reflecting the time of day and the fading light, yet showing the almost glass like conditions in the pooled water compared to the sunset reflections in the far sea.
4. The rocks were darkened and texture added, before painting the reflections of the clouds.
5. I always leave my figures until the end as sometimes I don’t decide until then on the form they will take. Here the father is laden down with all the bags and gear from the day out but the son is still wanting to play.
I love the tranquility and calm of this piece and the more limited colour range than I usually use also.
15. Lucy, 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?
Thank you Stephen, it was a pleasure. My contact details are:
Facebook: Lucy Brangwin Pastel Artist