WITH SOPHIE LONG
I’ve always been a student of art and have painted at points throughout my life. I suppose it was always something I wanted to do but never thought it was possible until just over a year ago. I was given my first commission by someone who had seen some of my artwork. She asked if I could do a piece for her for Christmas. And it's really all stemmed from there.
I grew up in a creative environment, my Dad went to art college in Bristol and works as a designer and screen printer. When I was a child he used to sit down with me most evenings and we’d paint something. He would paint and show me how to do a certain style, usually landscapes. That was his favourite thing. We have a very, very different style now actually – but I believe he’s proud of what I’m doing. I think he always wanted to be an artist too and as a designer and printer he is one, just in a different form.
Initially, making the decision to call myself a full time artists was a real leap of faith. It’s something that I thought about a lot – and it’s terrifying because as an artist you’re never guaranteed to get work, or to sell the work you do. But I decided to do it because I didn’t want to work for anyone else and I wanted to follow my passion. I thought, “Why not? What’s there to lose?” And thankfully I am where I am now.
Recently I was looking back at some of my first commissions, as I have been asked to do something similar – a stag painting. My style of painting has changed incredibly. I am now a lot more intricate and I use a lot more fine art, but it’s still loose and messy in my own way. I’ve definitely tightened things up a bit and have gone down a more realistic, but colourful route.
A consistent theme through my work has always been animals. Since I was born I was obsessed with animals, my parents have always had animals and I grew up owning a zoo of animals. I also used to do sea conservation for a charity. So I guess that I am incredibly lucky to be able to put my two passions together. I love sea animals. I love sharks – I’d say that’s possibly my favourite subject matter so far. And as far as commissions go, I love painting dogs. I have an obsession with dogs – I have three of my own!
Over time I have developed an expressive, colourful style. When I was younger and doing my A-levels I started bringing different colours into my artwork. I used to follow Jenny Saville closely, and she uses a lot of pinky, greeny tones and blues. So I guess it’s an influence from other artists.
Being involved in Upfest 2016, which is an urban, street art festival in Bristol, and walking through the streets of Bedminster seeing the other artists at work – everything was very bright and colourful. It’s very rare to find a piece of art or graffiti work by Upfest artists that is not in a bright palette. And so that’s probably a very contemporary style of painting that’s influenced me.
As an artist living and working in Bristol, I've always drawn a great deal of inspiration from the city. Bristol accommodates the artist better than pretty much anywhere that I can think of. There is a lot of art, lots of music and there’s a lot of diversity. Lots of places inspire me, and there are plenty of people here to help. You walk through any of the streets in Bristol and there’s art on practically all the walls. Here in Bristol it is acceptable to be an artist.
Upfest gave me the opportunity to work on a large scale piece outside, though I am undecided if my work always belongs outside. The fine art I do on canvas belongs on the wall but when doing larger mural work, such as Cormorant, the piece I did for Cargo, my style loosens. It’s bigger, I love working on a massive scale. To do something outside would be great – obviously I’d probably need to change my medium away from brushes and paint. I used spray cans on Cormorant, which was a bit trial and error, but we got there in the end.
Looking ahead to 2017, I’ve applied to do Upfest again and I want to try and get some mural space, either in restaurants or in businesses, and paint directly onto their walls. Really I want to get my name out there, and have something permanent that can’t be moved around. I’d like to take part in the Other Art Fair this year, and the Affordable Art Fair – they seem to follow naturally as my next steps in being an artist.
I’ve been thinking about finding a new workspace and have been looking at studios in Bristol and they are pricey. But it would be nice if I could have a workspace that wasn’t based in my lounge. I think what I might do is find a bigger house with a room that is my designated painting space, my own studio from home.
Seeing a lot of other artists – not necessarily individuals – getting a name for themselves, really inspires me. Upfest has some fantastic artists and people are very aware of who they are. I guess they inspire me to be bigger and for people to know who I am one day.