An interview with our artist Alison Stafford

22 January 2020

We interview artist Alison Stafford from  Cheshire, United Kingdom.

Please describe your artwork style

My artwork has developed from realism to a more abstract and expressionistic style as I have developed my art business

What’s your background?

I come from a fashion and textile background having graduated from Manchester Polytechnic (as was) in 1990 and pursued a career in that field for over 25 years. It is my passion for all things colour that attracted me to try painting as a form of relaxation to help cope with the stresses of work, and after a couple of sessions I was hooked!

How long have you been an artist?

I have been an artist for over 10 years during which time I started out painting pet and people portraits before focusing on horses and all things ‘nature’

Who or what are your biggest influences?

My biggest influences are contemporary artists that have a unique handling of everyday subjects.

Lesley Humphrey is by far my favourite equine artist and she inspires me with her wonderful use of colour and abstract forms.

Scott Naismith’s Landscapes just make me want to get my paints out whenever I see them – his use of colour and mark making is just sublime!

I also admire and respect artists that hone their skills through observational sketching and painting, and their efforts to ‘get it right’! One such artist that inspires me in this respect is Alison Wilson.

How have you developed your career?

I started out doing pet and people portraits for friends and family, but also felt a need to try new things whilst practising observational painting, so I expanded my knowledge by getting as much hands-on experience as possible in the areas that intrigued me.

I took part in many workshops but one that really stayed with me and influenced the way I paint today, was one with Gerry Dudgeon an abstract artist from Dorset. I found that random mark making and under painting can be key to the way that a painting develops, and use of colour, shape, pattern and texture can be meaningful and effective too. Coming from a textile background where colour and pattern are key, this was music to my ears!

I was already painting horses for commission as I live within the grounds of an international equestrian facility and also have my own so it was a natural thing to develop. This soon led to me exploring what it is about horses that inspired me, so I have completed a small series of paintings that try to capture the spirit of the horse using the vehicle of colour, pattern and mark making. I have then developed this into a range of homewares that have been a great addition to my product range, though I would love to do more

Which current art world trends are you following?

I love to see what other artists are doing in the field of abstractism, and also equestrian art and am a regular ‘waster of time’ on Pinterest!

Where do you do your work? 

I am lucky in that I can use a north facing room at home for my studio although we are looking to relocate so my dream would be to have a studio space out of the house – somewhere with a great view would be nice! It’s great having everything to hand and also have a nice warm working environment but it can also be easy to get distracted by domestic tasks!

What do you feel is the role of the artist in society? 

A great question and one that I ponder way too much!

In my view Art should reflect society and provoke a reaction. Whether that is a painting of someone’s dog or an artwork depicting something that really makes people think (even graffiti does this) then it has a valid place in the world. I am also a firm believer that imagination should be explored and expanded. It is our capacity to think outside the box that enables us to solve problems in a creative and resourceful way. If an artist can use current events to get the message across then that is a powerful and wonderful thing!

What technique/s / mediums do you use? 

I love to try new mediums and deliberately don’t read about how to use them properly as I like to find out what they can and can’t do on my own. This can lead to total disaster (it has, but I have a really good sense of humour) but can also lead to something that I would never arrive at in any other circumstance. Again, imagination and a constant questioning and reviewing of my own practice is something that will help me grow.

Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed? 

Definitely the way it is executed!

How do you feel when you are letting your emotions loose on the canvas?

When I paint I have to be in ‘the zone’ which can sometime mean I need to get myself in a place where I can begin – this could mean a long walk, getting all my admin done first, doodling in my sketchbook or having a deadline. Once I am in that place then emotional response is where I start. There is a lot of energy that goes into the first few layers before I start to tighten up and it can be draining! I have to ‘feel’ the painting and have a vision of the outcome in order to progress through each stage

What project are you working on now?

I am planning a series of small local landscapes that will sit together as a larger group and also a series of larger paintings that will feature in an exhibition that I am holding with my co-exhibitor Karen Sillar.

Where do you find your ideas for your work?

I use a sketchbook to expand on thoughts for paintings and also make sure I have a week in between projects when I can get out and see exhibitions or go somewhere where I can gather reference material.

Is there an artwork you are most proud of?Why? 

My favourite painting currently is called ‘Freedom’ which I completed last year. It was the first of a series of semi abstract horse paintings and I still love looking at it. I actually wonder how on earth it happened as it was such an instinctive painting.

How do you know when a work is finished?

I walk away and don’t have an urge to fiddle with it – this by the way is rare. My fellow Print Pastel and Paint colleagues are great at shouting ‘WALK AWAY FROM THE EASEL’ and we encourage each other all the time. Being an artist can be a lonely experience! It is not healthy to work in a vacuum of your own space and thoughts and whilst it’s great to be able to work through a particular idea in solitude, feedback and suggestion from someone that has a different perspective is an enriching thing that should be encouraged (even if you don’t want to hear it!)

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

My most important artist tool is my daylight lamp. It enables me to paint through the winter when the light fades quickly and also on those nights where I just can’t get a painting out of my head and creep downstairs in the early hours to fiddle. If I can have another it would be my Brilliant Pink Oil Paint by Michael Harding – it features in the majority of my paintings and just makes me happy!

Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?

I love to run workshops for beginners!

There is nothing better than seeing others produce something that they didn’t think they could. A lot of people that attend my workshops have been told at school that they are no good at art. I find it so sad that a teacher of any subject can turn someone off a potentially life enhancing skill through unjustified criticism instead of encouragement and positive critique. There are no rules with art – it is the purest form of self-expression and should be used to help people develop confidence and unwind. I always tell my students to leave their negative thoughts at the door and have a ‘can do’ attitude. Art is the best therapy!


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