Interview With An Associate Artist: Nel Whatmore

In today’s “Interview with an Associate Artist” we’ll be chatting to Nel Whatmore.  Nel has been a professional artist for 35 years.  She is the joint founder of the New Pastel School with Rebecca de Mendonça.  She has exhibited regularly at the Chelsea Flower Show and has been commissioned to paint the national collections of both the Michaelmas Daisy and the Rose.  She was also Artist in Residence at the Royal Horticultural Society Harlow Carr Gardens.

Nel Whatmore in her studio.

1. Nel, 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 asking me! My journey into the art world started when I was on Foundation Art at Wolverhampton Poly. That is when I first picked up a pastel and realized that it was a medium that suited me best. there were subjects that I could tackle, with a pastel, that I couldn’t in other mediums. It was a revelation! I think as I am a very touchy feely person, actually being able to hold a sold piece of pigment in my hand without the interference of a brush was much more satisfying. I started my career in a bedsit in Headingley, Leeds. I lived and worked in the same room and became an artist with the help of a Prince’s Trust grant with which I bought my first easel and plan-file chest. Actually that’s not strictly true, as my Dad bought me my very first easel when I was 11! I started by making hand made cards and then with the money I generated from that I produced my first set of prints. I then sold originals and prints until I was taken on by a large Fine Art Publisher. I built up a mailing list by doing direct selling shows and then having built up a following exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show for over 15 years and had one women shows.

Interview With An Associate Artist: Nel Whatmore 1

2. You are particularly known in pastel for your stunning floral pieces, 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?

That’s quite a BIG question which probably deserves a very long and profound answer! But for me it’s simple, being creative makes me happy and I believe that the arts in general help people get through life’s ups and downs. Colour is my main motivation and joy along with my garden. So although I paint a variety of subjects from flowers, the sea, and land to abstracts, the theme that runs through all my work is my love of colour and the uplifting effect it has on us as human beings. My ‘message to the world’ is just to stop and pause and look further and more keenly at how beautiful our planet is. To cherish every moment

3. Is there a particular project that you are working on at the moment or have planned?

My ongoing project is the study of my garden which I started in lockdown and it has just continued alongside my other interest which is to explore the beauty and power of water and our coastlines. So one is quite an introverted pursuit, the other more outward looking.

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?

Oh my word I think we are all on our own artistic time line, where by hopefully we are improving and therefore for the most part always look back and think ‘why did I even think that that painting was good!’ It’s just part of us becoming a better artist. We always tell students on our courses at the New Pastel School that there is no point comparing your work to someone else’s as everyone is on their own timeline, as long as you are improving and moving forward as an artist that’s all that matters.

I think ‘we are what we paint’ and so as I have become more confident as I’ve got older, so has my work. I’d say it is now more expressive and also more focused on conveying emotion. When I was younger, there was a lot of, just getting through and trying to earn my living as an artist.

It’s an interesting question to ask as to ‘where my work is now going?’ as it’s a question I have been asking myself as I approach my 60th birthday. I think I’m wanting really to experiment even more, and not to settle for just what I know and can do easily. I’m still on my journey and would just like to keep improving, it’s as simple as that.

5. What is your greatest artistic triumph / achievement?

Someone asked me that question recently and there are of course many ways to answer, as how do we measure an artistic triumph? Is it in terms of awards and accolades or sellout shows or other more personal artistic triumphs?

For me, my greatest achievements are two fold, to have met so many people at shows and exhibitions that have become friends as well as customers and have traveled the length of the country, to come and see my work, from Peter Caruth who at 17 came direct from his hockey game in Ireland, to my one woman show at Ripley Castle, to Pam Teed one of my first customers 36 years ago, who now in her 70’s turns up with mince pies at Christmas. The arts have the ability to connect people and bring out the best in all of us, and I love that. As to me art is about communication and connection.

Secondly I think what I’m most proud of is earning my living as an artist my whole life from the age of 24 and of finding a way to continue to paint through the adversity of our daughter having cancer at 19 and then me having breast cancer in 2019. Art has got me through and continues to be a great source of joy.

6. Which papers do you prefer working on and why?

I prefer using Sennelier sand card or under painting with Art Spectrum colour fix primer and then using pastel on top

7. 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?

I think like most people that it is both a blessing and a bane. A blessing in that you can reach a wider sphere of people but that it is a constant battle to out with the algorithms that forces you to spend valuable painting time trying to provide content. Also the need to film yourself painting is very inhibiting to be being creative I find. The positive side is of course is being able to see art easily and wonderful initiatives like the Artist Support Pledge

8. 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?

I occasionally enter work into curated shows, I would always advise artists to look at the gallery where the show may be held and see if your work would fit. If you enter competitions don’t be disheartened if you get rejected as there often many just logistical considerations to work being accepted. I haven’t entered many competitions as there is often a bias towards painting rather pastels and also snobbery to do with subject matter too. It is also costly to get work to exhibitions and get them back. Often work will then need reframing so it is a costly exercise. I know I am sounding rather negative but as a professional artist I have to consider all the time what is the best use of my time.

9. We’re going to finish by having an in-depth look at one of your pieces.  The piece you’ve chosen is “Strike a Pose”.   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?

I am going to choose ‘Strike a Pose’ which is a recent floral piece.

Strike A Pose, soft pastel painting by Nel Whatmore.
Strike A Pose, by Nel Whatmore.

I underpainted it using art spectrum colour fix primers, tinted with liquid acrylics to establish basic areas of colour and to paint the back ground black, using the black version of the primer. I then build up the layers using sponges and Unison pastels. I found the Dark set particularly useful. I was most interested in the flowers and vegetation melting into the back ground and the beauty of an unusual composition and variation in tone. Rather like a contemporary take on a Dutch botanical. It just seemed very atmospheric. At the moment I wouldn’t change much about it ..but ask me in a few months and no doubt there will be loads of things I could say, but that is what creates the drive to paint the next piece!

10. Nel, 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 very much for asking me! It is always thought provoking to have to put words to processes that are often instinctive. If we people would like to see more of my work as I have two main interests plants and the sea then please go to www.nelwhatmore.com or join my mailing list on the home page or visit my studio at Sunny Bank Mills Farsley, Nr Leeds I am in the TWISTING STUDIOS. We are open several times a year or by appointment so please email me on nelartforliving@yahoo.com

Insta @NelWhatmore

Facebook @Nel.Whatmore

An Interview With The Interviewer

Today we are turning the tables, and talking to Stephen Fuller, an Associate Artist both known for his atmospheric and dramatic landscapes, and his in depth interviews of other Associate Artists.

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