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Artist Insight: Mark Woollacott

Can you share a bit about your artistic journey and what inspired you to pursue art as a career?

I always loved drawing from a very young age and enjoyed art lessons at school, so art was something that came quite naturally to me. I found it fulfilling on a creative level, as if it satisfied some inner artistic need, a way to express myself. I always felt at home when I was drawing or painting; it was a way to become inspired and to bring into the world new ideas, artistically, and so it was always my intention to pursue art as a career. I studied Art and Design at my local college when I was sixteen, but it was later, in the 1990s, that I began to enter my paintings at group exhibitions and was invited to undertake a number of art commissions. Over the following years, I entered more exhibitions and became represented by a number of art galleries, which brought my work to a larger audience and opened up more opportunities for me.

Can you share a memorable moment or a moment you are most proud of from your artistic journey so far?

I was invited to submit a very small landscape painting for the Prince's Trust charity, during an auction at the EMC Leadership Dinner Event at the Hilton, Park Lane, London, in 2015. My small landscape painting raised £700 for the Prince's Trust. Only a handful of artworks were chosen for the auction, and were mostly donated by film celebrities and by royalty, so it was quite a privilege to be involved with this event. His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, also donated some of his artworks for the auction. As well as auctioned artworks, bidders could also bid on other items. The Prince's Trust raised over £400,000 from the auction.

What inspires you and your work?

The beautiful coastline of Devon and Cornwall inspires me. I love to visit the coast - to observe the land, the sea and sky - and to simply look for something special, a moment of beauty and luminosity, that lends itself perfectly to the artist's brush. I feel quite privileged in that my North Devon studio is so close to the coastline. Living at Ilfracombe means the sea is right on my doorstep. Within seconds of walking out of my front door, I can experience the elements and take inspiration from the ever-changing dramatic cloud formations, the light in the sky, or from the colour and swell of the sea; I can see all of this on a daily basis and make sketches or take reference photos. Every day is different; one day the coast can be tranquil and beautiful, the next it can be stormy and dramatic.

Could you describe your creative process from start to finish? (Eg.Can you see your finished product before you start it? Do you have any rituals or habits that help you get into the creative zone?)

Sometimes I know what the finished painting will look like before I have started it; I see it within my inner field of vision quite clearly and know what elements within the painting will make up its entire composition. Sometimes I may use the Fibonacci ratio to create a greater harmony within the painting and position an object in the most pleasing area of the painting according to this ratio - it is an old technique artists have made use of in the past. Sometimes I might prepare the canvas with a coloured ground first - using gesso and a small amount of red paint - to give the base layer some 'warmth', or I may just use a white ground, and then paint the first layer of the painting over it using oil paints mixed with thinners - known as the underpainting. Once dry, I paint additional layers, using the 'fat over lean' method of oil painting, defining key areas of the painting and then finishing off with details and highlights. Sometimes a painting - particularly a boat painting - can take me between 8 to 12 weeks to complete, with over 200 hours of work invested in it. As soon as my brush connects to canvas, I am immediately in the zone and totally focused on what I'm painting. But it's always a relaxing experience and my work is always enjoyable. Occasionally, a flash of inspiration might unexpectedly come in while I'm working on a painting and it will eventually lead to the painting progressing in a much better way than I had imagined. Once the painting is finished It is left to dry for a month or so before applying a coat of retouch varnish, which still allows the oil painting to go through the process of drying, but at the same time affords the painting a layer of protection. 

What themes or concepts do you explore in your work, and why are they important to you?

Light, tranquillity and beauty are key themes in my coastal art. They bring something special to an artwork, making a picture almost come to life with luminosity, simply by using paint. These themes are important to me as they resonate with a part of myself that has an affinity with nature, which touches a spiritual part of my being that has long felt connected to the sea.

What mediums do you primarily work with, and why do you find them particularly suited to expressing your ideas?

I work mostly with professional oil paints (respected brands such as Old Holland or Michael Harding), but will occasionally work with acrylics. I like to use good quality paints with plenty of high grade pigment content. Although fast-drying professional acrylics are handy if I want to produce a painting that needs to be entered into an exhibition at short notice, I do prefer to paint in oils as it affords me greater flexibility and time, especially for the careful blending of colours in a painting. I can achieve the same level of colour saturation and intensity using acrylics as I can in oils, but oils have that slower drying time, which can be quite useful.

Are there any artists or movements that have influenced your style or approach to art? How do you incorporate these influences into your own work?

The photorealistic boat paintings of John Steven Dews have certainly inspired my maritime-themed paintings. I'm always impressed by his attention to detail and how he paints water in particular. His art has motivated me to paint to the same high standards and to produce paintings for clients who want that realism and accurate artistic interpretation. My coastal paintings aren't really inspired by any particular art movement; I simply look at nature and endeavour to capture something of beauty in my own way, whether it is painted photorealistically or painted more loosely.  

Many collectors are drawn to art that evokes emotion or tells a story. Can you share the story behind one of your pieces that holds special meaning to you?

People do become very moved by art; they connect to it as soon as they see it. It either evokes strong feelings from the past, from having the visited the depicted place with someone special in their life or it affects them in the present moment through its luminosity and beauty and draws them to it. I remember being told by a gallery owner about a visitor who was walking near to the gallery who saw one of my coastal paintings on display in the window. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the painting and then slowly approached the window, feeling deep emotion surfacing within him in response to the artwork. He then entered the gallery and told the gallery owner that he had felt compelled to enter the gallery and to tell her how he felt after looking at my painting and its colours and luminosity. He told her it had moved him in a way he hadn't expected and it had made tears well up in him as it reminded him of some aspect from his past: a place where he had once visited where the light was similar and equally as beautiful. It was an uplifting and positive experience for him, proving that art has a power to move people deeply and either stir poignant memories from the past or provide a sense of hope for the future.

What do you hope viewers take away from experiencing your art, aesthetically, emotionally or something else?

I hope they will find a degree of peace as they experience my art, or perhaps discover an awakening of something much deeper, something inspiring, possibly of a spiritual nature, as they experience the luminosity in my coastal artworks. If this results in the person subsequently connecting more frequently with the coastline and appreciating the natural beauty and wonder it displays, then my art has played a helpful part in that process of reconnecting with nature.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our Gallery visitors and collectors?

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being an artist is having the opportunity to meet the buyers of my paintings and work with collectors when they commission me to produce a painting for them. It is always wonderful to listen to collectors describe what it is about my paintings that they find appealing and why they connect to them, and more Importantly, what the commissioned painting will mean to them on a personal level when it is finished. I like to involve the collector as much as possible during the commission process, to welcome feedback from them so that they end up with a painting that meets all their expectations and allows them an opportunity to gain a greater insight into an artist's methodology.