As we know (especially if you’ve read my monthly roundups), pastel can be applied in soooo many ways. One of these methods is applying pastel in a more linear way. And one of the artists I greatly admire who uses this style is Felicity House. I’ve featured her work in previous roundups – Nov 2015 and Feb 2018 – and was eager to have her as a guest blogger. So I’m delighted to introduce you to Felicity House!
Don’t know her work? Here’s a teaser!
Felicity House Bio
Following a career in Education, Felicity House worked as an illustrator, and as a tutor of life drawing and art courses for adults. Such flexibility gave her the opportunity to paint for herself and to travel and fill numerous sketchbooks. Felicity discovered the versatility and immediacy of pastels. In 2003, she was elected a member of The Pastel Society.
She teaches occasional workshops for The Pastel Society and exhibits in their Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. Felicity holds an Exhibition & Open Studio at her home during the biennial Dorset Art Weeks and exhibits regularly in the Royal West of England Annual Exhibition in Bristol, and in London at the Discerning Eye and New English Art Club Exhibitions. You can find out more on her website.
Now here’s Felicity House!!
I‘ve always been a draw-er, wielding a pencil to enclose mind shapes (i.e. imaginative drawings) was what I loved, endlessly creating visual narratives on book end papers, and until discovered – on the wall behind my bedroom curtains.
I loved art at school – painting and making. Post-war the expressive arts were given big chunks of classroom time …and I was encouraged. I enjoyed looking at pictures …book illustrations and paintings. But art school wasn’t my career route and I trained to become a primary school teacher which really took up my life! Later when my own children were growing up I signed up for some evening classes and got hooked on drawing and painting again.
I may not have been to art school but from then on managed my own art training on the hoof …accessing classes where I could. Pre www., I wrote to artists who I admired to find out where they were teaching and then signed up for their classes to learn from them.
One short course I attended on watercolour was with the artist Barry Watkin in Somerset. I noticed his pastel paintings hanging on the walls and these made me look twice as they were coloured drawings but had crossed the drawing boundary into the realms of being paintings.
I was intrigued ….I wanted to make these coloured drawings. I got myself some pastel kit and also began attending life drawing classes. I’ve been smitten with both pastels and figure drawing ever since.
In using soft pastels I always liked it that you held the colour in your hand. No brushes to get between you and the surface. Pastel was both the drawing tool and the means of making colour and tone …the mark making possibilities were as versatile as a pencil. By pressing hard or light, by soft layering of gentle strokes of colour, you could create instantly in a fresh and vibrant way or you could be subtle and build up colour gradually.
Pastel was so immediate and quick. Being a full-time school teacher and mum that was a good thing as free time for art was limited. So I took to pastels and in time boldly entered for the Pastel Society Annual Exhibition in London and had a small drawing of radishes accepted which was encouraging.
Every now and then I took a day course run by Pastel Society members …Victor Ambrus, Claire Spencer, John Tookey, Patrick Cullen, Moira Huntly, John Blockley, Tom Coates. How fortunate to be taught by such inspiring artists. I always took on board what these artists generously shared and my own practice gradually emerged. It was a synthesis of what worked for me.
All these artists valued sound drawing and I persisted with improving my drawing skills and would make a 15-minute drawing every day before going off to a day of school teaching. That and regular life drawing classes meant I developed a fluency which enabled me to observe accurately but deliver spontaneously.
At that time I was fortunate to be part of a group of friends that met each year to have a week of figure painting with fabulous models. Also, when I left school teaching, I went once a week for several terms to the Royal Drawing School in Shoreditch London. My favourite course was ‘The Clothed Figure‘ with tutor Susan Wilson.
So in my own way, I had an intensive, if piecemeal, art training from tutors who I admired and learned from, and worked amongst others who were equally enthusiastic about drawing and painting. Sound drawing has always stood me in good stead; the understanding of tonal values developed gradually over time.
I work with pastels directly from a variety of subjects and edit intuitively. If you only have limited time to respond, you focus and concentrate on what interests you most. The selection becomes intuitive and perhaps is what makes your artwork particular to you.
There is nothing like the urgency of knowing you have to leave a location in a short while or a model being due to finish posing, to trigger those well observed but energetically delivered marks.
My Working Method and Materials
I underpaint tonally with a neutral watercolour to plot things in and establish any strong darks. This also conserves the tooth of the paper rather than filling it with too many layers of pastel. Of course, it’s a totally moveable under-structure and may shift once the pastel starts. I begin with gentle strokes of colour gradually building up and I regularly return to correct the drawing – perhaps with a pastel pencil. I’m quite graphic – I like lines.
As to materials, with paper I’ve tried many but always return to Colourfix by Art Spectrum which is card, screen-printed with a mix of acrylic + pumice so it takes an underpainting. It comes in terrific colours. My favourites are soft umber, australian grey, and blue haze. I like Colourfix paper because the texture is there but it’s not coarse, and lines work on it.
I use various brands of pastels: Unison Colour, Daler Rowney, Rembrandt, Schmincke, Sennelier. I also use pastel pencils: Carbothello, Caran D’ache, and Pitt Pastel pencils.
Since leaving full-time school teaching where one taught all subjects on the curriculum, I’ve taught Life Drawing classes at the Arts University in Bournemouth and short art courses at West Dean College, near Chichester in Sussex. I enjoyed this teaching of art and my school teaching experience helped me think hard about the learning that would take place in each session and the sound processes involved in getting there.
Such was the flexibility of teaching short art courses rather than a full-time school curriculum that it fortuitously gave me the opportunity to travel to paint and fill numerous sketchbooks.
My Current Inspirations
In recent years I’ve been able to travel to some amazing locations with painting specifically in mind: France, Italy, Portugal, and India. I love seeing new places with a fresh eye and allocating time to paint away from the distractions of domesticity has always been a real treat. The spillage of work from these trips has been great.
I’ve refined a neat kit for travelling and working with pastels on the hoof.
Back at home, I take the opportunity of working on complex interior scenes when I can – always other peoples – so I have to finish at the ‘end of day ‘. There is a fascination about the arrangements of furniture and collected objects that belong to others. I enjoy the challenge of relating one item to another and absorbing the sense of place.
Wet days and winter months might mean a still life set up in the studio: I enjoy making arrangements with meaningful objects I’ve collected – together with patterned fabrics –and thinking about shapes, colour harmonies, and contrasts.
Food subjects are another favourite. As a keen cook who makes marmalade each January I always work on a pastel version of making marmalade with the ingredients and jars and the wonderful Seville oranges which brighten a winter’s day.
I wrote down a recipe from the cookbook, The Bangala Table, compiled by The Bangala, a hotel famous for authentic local food, where we stayed in Chettinad, Tamil Nadu, India. The chutney was absolutely delicious and the ingredients made a wonderful picture in my mind so on my return home I gathered the ingredients together – visiting an Indian shop for the special spices, curry leaves and ripe mangoes. They’re arranged on a piece of Indian hand-dyed cloth. Good memories of great Indian flavours.
The vegetable paintings are always spontaneous …. things I’ve bought that I can see need painting however swiftly. So many lovely things to paint.
Fish are lovely to paint and then cook for supper. I always enjoy responding to their beautiful shapes and colours. If the working might take a few hours I place them on a plate over a dish of ice.
Last year I was fortunate to spend time on location responding to the walled gardens at West Dean in Sussex.
Currently responding to this combination of subject matter works for me – the occasional travel opportunity, still life and interiors, and the pleasure of working in beautiful gardens.
And of course returning regularly to the important discipline and ultimate challenge of figures and portraits.
When the weather is good I paint on location. I go to life class and draw from the figure regularly. If the weather’s awful I might set up a still life in my studio.
My recent open studio meant I probably didn’t work for three months with all the preparation etc. I get lots of work done when I’m away from home. Same as most people, we all have to do chores, admin, and domestic stuff. So doing the artwork has to fit in.
I work from life. I honestly believe looking, noticing, selecting, and responding are what making art is all about, and why not learn by making drawings and paintings from the wonderful things there are about us.
Perhaps people want instant everything these days and are not prepared to put in the donkey working hours needed to learn and improve. I’m sad about that as working from photos just isn’t the same as being present.
I need and like to be present, to absorb everything in the time I’ve got – an inhalation and then a spillage from the head, hand, and heart.
I do enjoy taking photographs but for me, that’s a different art form altogether. Perhaps I’ll make use of reference photos in the future but I’m not rushing.
If I want to develop ideas or make further paintings later in the studio then I’ve plenty of sketchbooks full of drawings and fast paintings made firsthand to work from.
In awe. That’s me.
What about you? What are your thoughts and feelings after seeing this work by Felicity House? We would LOVE to hear from you. So please leave a comment.
Also, do feel free to ask Felicity House any questions you may have.
Until next time!
Here is the recipe book Felicity House mentions above: