Some artists create work that you may deeply admire and you think, It’s not in me to create work like that, I just don’t work that way although I sure wish I could. Ever had this feeling? One such artist that brings up these feelings for me is Moira Huntly. I’ve been a fan of her abstracted realism for years..and years!!
I wrote about one of Moira’s landscape pieces in one of my roundups. (Click HERE to read it.) What I said certainly expresses a lot of what I feel about her work. I’m mesmerised at how this artist sees and transposes the pattern of the landscape rather than directly recreating what she sees. Can you tell Moira Huntly is one of my art heroes?
Imagine then my complete and utter surprise when this brilliant artist accepted my invitation to be a guest on HowToPastel. I’m still kind of flabbergasted!
So I’m honoured and delighted to introduce you to Moira Huntly.
Don’t know her work? Here’s a teaser..
Before I hand the reins over to Moira, first a wee bit about her.
Moira Huntly Bio
Moira Huntly, born 1932 in Motherwell, Scotland, studied at Harrow School of Art and Hornsey College of Art in London. She went on to become the first woman President of the Pastel Society since it was founded in 1898, and was a past Governor of the Federation of British Artists. Elected to the Royal West of England Academy, the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and the Royal Society of Marine Artists, Moira exhibits widely and has undertaken many commissions for international companies. She is a teacher and author of several books relating to the practice of drawing and painting. You can see more of her work on her website.
Now take it away Moira!
I’m often asked “What do you do for a living?”
My answer – ‘I’m an artist.’
And the response is nearly always, “What a lovely relaxing thing to do.”
People are really surprised when I respond, “No, it isn’t.”
Then I explain that I have the constant pressure of exhibition deadlines, plus keeping up a standard, which is really difficult, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
I’m told my artistic career started when I was about two years old. We lived in NW Spain and returned to Britain for annual leave travelling by ocean liner, no air travel in those days. My parents liked to dance in the evenings and a crew member would babysit. Drawing materials were always hidden away. One evening a crew member thought I was fast asleep, but no, I had found a crayon and was very busy scribbling all over the cabin’s pillowcases, there being no paper to hand.
Living in Spain came to an abrupt end when the Civil War broke out and we had to escape, lost everything, and were penniless refugees. We returned to Britain, but during the second world war we had another disaster – our home was blitzed. We stayed with relatives in Scotland whilst our house was being repaired and I attended Perth Academy for a while. I remember the art lessons being very boring – just cubes, prisms, and spheres. We drew in pencil as art materials were in short supply during the war. I would probably make much more of that subject matter today.
So life is a game of chance and a lot of luck.
After the war, we moved to London and I studied at Harrow School of Art and Hornsey College of Art. Since my student days, I have believed in gaining knowledge from direct observation. Drawing is very important to me and through accuracy in drawing, I try to explore shape and form and discover in a subject its potential for a painting.
In the early years, I painted in oils and watercolours, then unexpectedly my father in law, who was also a professional artist, presented me with his box of pastels to try, and the rest is history. Those good quality pastels were a revelation and a joy to work with. Little did I know then, that many years later I would become the first woman President of the Pastel Society since it was founded in 1898.
I regard the composition and content of a painting as more important than the medium, but sometimes I instinctively choose a particular sketch to work from because I visualise it in a certain medium. I can’t explain why this is so.
Painting with pastel is painting with pure colour, the pigment is unsullied with oil or varnish and is the most permanent of the mediums so long as the surface is looked after.
This reminds me of a portrait I was commissioned to make of a local dignitary. I had used pastel and was quite pleased with the result. Temporarily I put it on the top of my baby grand piano to await framing well out of reach of small children, but I was wrong. Unfortunately, the oldest managed to climb up and pull it towards her to have a look, and little fingers went right across the image. All I could do was touch it up as best I could, and it was duly presented. By chance, years later I met the people who had commissioned the work and they told me how pleased they still were with the portrait. I never said a word, just smiled to myself.
I still work in a variety of media and sometimes mixed media, but whichever medium I choose, my way of thinking and approach to a painting remains the same. Marine and industrial subjects, buildings in the landscape, figures and still life appeal to me, but whatever the subject, I am searching for its abstract qualities. I am looking for abstract shapes that appeal, patterns full of strong rhythms and invention distilled from my drawings.
I see the world as a kaleidoscope of broken lines, shapes, and colour masses, sometimes fragmented into jewels of colour. I love exploring colour as well as abstraction and I try to keep a balanced composition with a semi-realistic interpretation. I call it ‘abstract realism’. These are the qualities I seek in my work and am continually striving to achieve.
Years ago I used to paint ‘en plein air.’ It is a good foundation as a painter, but nowadays I paint mainly in the studio. I find it easier to explore composition ideas when I am in the studio rather than ‘on the spot’ where there is always the danger of reality taking over. At that point, I begin to lose my initial abstract ideas.
I rely heavily on my sketch books sometimes freely combining more than one sketch for the same painting. This combination of subject matter is sometimes referred to as a capriccio.
For pastel painting I work on mountboard. I like a sturdy support especially for large works, and it is fascinating how the colour of the mountboard can influence the painting.
I start by under painting with a dark tone of watercolour and a large brush, or white gouache if the mountboard is very dark in tone. Below, I have included examples of some of my preliminary working methods, using collage ideas or abstract doodles.
Cubist painters such as Cezanne, Picasso and Braque have had a strong influence on my still life paintings. Braque in particular whose flat cut out shapes and strong design show the influence of collage. The British painter Ben Nicholson is another influence.
Working Methods and Studies
Sometimes I create a collage and will view it upside down or on its side to seek out the right composition balance, then I will study it for a while until a subject matter suggests itself. In this instance, the collage inspired a still life painting.
Other working methods show how I make a rough tonal drawing of a collage, usually in pastel or charcoal and this helps to crystallise ideas.
Alternatively, I will make a fairly abstract black and white doodle, and then go through my sketch books until I find a subject that I feel is compatible with the abstract shapes.
I guess you could call it a ‘back to front’ way of painting but it seems to work for me! Nothing is precisely copied and I looked at several sketches for inspiration.
Finally, I will try to make my working stages clearer as I created Mediterranean Village.
Stage 1 Choosing the collage
Stage 2 TONAL DRAWING 2 drawing of the collage in charcoal and pastel, but this time taking it a little further by adding some slight definition.
Stage 3 Pen and ink drawing of Besalu, Spain
Stage 4 The final painting – Mediterranean Village.
Whatever my method, the resulting painting is usually all pastel with hardly any of the underpainting showing through.
I don’t use fixative; I just give a sharp tap or two to the back of the painting to dislodge any loose particles before it goes under glass.
We are always looking for different ways to portray what we feel and have observed, and the search is never over. It is often a struggle to capture in the final painting the excitement of the first inspiration, and convey it to others.
Remember that there are many ways of painting and interpreting a subject, and mine is only one of them.
I don’t know about you but I’m sooooooo inspired to experiment! I was surprised and delighted by Moira Huntly’s use of collage as a way of discovering a visual pattern from which to develop a painting. And, as much as I’ve used sketches as inspiration for pastel pieces, I don’t think I’ve ever reinterpreted them in the way this artist does.
Tell us, have you been inspired? And do you have questions? Please leave those and any comments you’d like to make about the glorious work of Moira Huntly!
Thanks for being here and I’ll catch you next time!