In today’s “Interview with an Associate Artist” we’ll be chatting to Sue Kerrigan-Harris. A graduate of Winchester College, Sue is particularly known for her fine portraiture of people and animals. Sue’s early career involved a wide range of jobs in the creative sector, including glass blower. Now an award winning artist, she concentrates on her love of portraiture as well as teaching art to a worldwide audience and is particularly active in her local community.
1. Sue, 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?
Hi Stephen and thank you for giving me the opportunity to feature in your Interview series. Like many I was interested in drawing at school, but was put off from taking it up as a career path as I never believed in myself. I’ve thought about that answer long and hard and I could blame this teacher and that teacher but the truth is that I never believed I could. Over the years my disbelief was reinforced many times when I tried to draw. It often felt like, some days I had the magical gift of being able to draw and other days the magic would disappear – thus reinforcing my beliefs.
But one day, something changed and I realised that with a little measuring and practice and actually believing I could, I finally did and from then on I just didn’t stop drawing! Of course the story is a lot longer than that (the full story is on my blog). I discovered pastels Christmas 2015. My sister gifted me 6 pastel pencils. She said, I though you could colour them in, gosh I laughed so hard, I can’t do that! But a week later, feeling guilty, for having not used them, I surely did. My sister, bless her, was so encouraging that I just kept going. I was addicted to the wonderful world of colour that I previously believed was totally beyond my ability and soft pastels!
2. You are particularly known in pastel for your fine 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?
I just love painting life! People and animals. Because a painting is so much more than a photo, it’s so much more immediate. To me, a photo feels like it is behind many layers, distant and can’t be accessed, whereas a painting is immediate, so close and full of life and love! When I thought that art and portraits could be a career for me, I decided to paint my son. I wanted to know, what it would be like to have a painting of a loved one. It was truly overwhelming and that experience assured me that I was on the right path.
3. Is there a particular project that you are working on at the moment or have planned?
Yes! And I am so excited about this project. It’s currently in its infancy but has been so well received by my students in the past couple of months. It’s called the Soft Pastel Skills Hub. The Hub is different to traditional, membership sites. It’s concise tutorials that really teach you how to pastel. As someone who has always struggled with learning (I have dyslexia) and combined with my professional teaching skills, I can demonstrate in a way that answers all the questions for people who are stuck with their art and I help them move forward. I help them see things differently and show them the missing links between what they think they need to do and what they actually need to do, to, for example pastelling long fur and achieving beautiful whiskers. As a teacher with integrity, I believe that if my students don’t understand, I need to change the way I’m teaching. Teaching children (and discovering that I was dyslexic through teaching children) has made me hyper aware of what it takes to be able to learn something when the learner finds it really, really hard. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. A few years back I had a skiing lesson. We were all newbies and by the end of the lesson I was the only person to be able to ski down the big slope successfully. Why? The instructor was not telling us what he was doing. His words did not match what he was actually doing with his body. So instead of listening to him, I listened and watched him. Dyslexia and my teacher training has given me the ability to teach better.
The Hub is my new baby, so to speak, which I’m hugely passionate about and so are my students: www.softpastelskillshub.co.uk
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?
Yes, I believe it has changed, in terms of confidence in my strokes and also the energy I use. At the moment I am loving teaching. I get so much joy from hearing how my students learn so much from my tutorials and the Hub.
5. What is your greatest artistic triumph / achievement?
My latest painting of my son. It is something that I would never have tackled previously and I’m so proud of the result, It gives me joy every day.
6. Which other artists do you particularly admire and what is it about their work you are drawn to? I love many of the Unison Colour Associate Artist’s work. Especially Emma Colbert as she was my teacher when I was first learning, I also love Michele Lucking’s portrait work – I love skin! And I love the simplicity and colour of Lucy Pittaway’s work.
I often say that I love the medium and colour, texture and presence of any painting more than the subjects themselves. And I also love Alpay Efe’s work. He paints the most beautiful flowers and portraits with delicious colour! He has a You Tube channel.
7. Why Unison Colour pastels? Do you have a particular favourite from the range?
I initially bought a few pastels from each of the top brands and tested them to see how they felt on the paper and what marks I could make. I chose Unison Colour because they were just right, not to hard and not too soft and more buttery soft than chalky soft… but also because they are a British brand and we need to support our home grown brands. I hope to get to the factory one day to visit. I love the blue violets, all my students know that my favourite colour is violet and lilac especially. I do particularly love BV10 – it reminds me of those wonderful blue sky days that you can just breathe in and celebrate life. My wish would be to have a mini 8 set of the blue violets. But my ultimate favourite is OB1 it’s a gorgeous pale green! If you look at my business brand colours on my website, it’s lilac and OB1! I also love the Star Wars connection, just for giggles 🙂
8. What is it like being a Unison Colour Associate Artist?
It’s great to be recognised by Unison Colour and be part of the Unison Colour Soft Pastel family. I have greatly enjoyed the 5 Day Challenges that I have created for Unison Colour and so wonderful to meet new people who love all things soft pastel. Being an Associate Artist has truly made my career possible and I thank Unison Colour from the bottom of my heart. I feel like I have found my reason d’etre.
9. If you were to offer one tip and one thing to avoid for a beginner to pastels, what would they be?
1). Not all soft pastels are the same and 2). Choose a good pastel paper – choosing the wrong paper can be the difference between loving and hating soft pastel.
10. Is there any tools or particular pieces of equipment that you use with your pastels that you wouldn’t want to be without?
My trusty knife and sand paper, but I recently discovered a new sharpener too. Oh and my blenders, I love them all and they all have a different purpose, so useful with soft pastel.
11.Which papers do you prefer working on and why?
I prefer Pastelmat for my professional portraits, but recently I have been using Canson Mi-Tientes again. This was the paper I first used when I started pastelling.
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?
I think for both, it can be good and bad and you have to have your wits about you to know how to handle social media. Surround yourself with experts, not people who think they are experts and take advise from people who know what they are talking about, everything else, ignore! I know that’s hard, especially when you are young and / or lack confidence. I ensure that my Facebook group is always encouraging and supportive. I will not tolerate anything else.
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?
I don’t at the moment, my life is too busy teaching and that makes me happy so I don’t feel the need to enter competitions.
14. We’re going to finish by having an in-depth look at one of your pieces. The piece you’ve chosen is called Einstein’s Transformation. 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?
Ah I love this set of paintings so much and it was pure fun! I did a tutorial of Einstein using the Zorn palette, but the idea was to really understand that truly any colours can be used for skin tones. I used the 4 Zorn colours, substituted 3 then added a rainbow of colours to enhance and then I went crazy! So this piece is in 3! The original Zorn (1) plus extra colours, then crazy (2) then a new version where I added gold extras as you can see (3). I really love the effect. I love his hair too, hair used to be my nemesis but I taught myself how to see hair/fur better to be able to paint it more realistically and I demonstrate this in the Hub. I don’t think I would change anything about this but I would like to use the technique again on some other portraits.
15. Sue, 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’s been a pleasure 🙂 I can be found on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/groups/pastelforbeginnersandbeyond
My tutorials website here: skhportraits.co.uk
And of course, my new baby, the Hub here: www.softpastelskillshub.co.uk