Wildlife painter Anne Corless has lived in many exotic locations and paints animals from the memory of seeing them along with her photos and sketches taken at the time.
Earlier this year we filmed Anne as she painted a cheetah in watercolour based on her earlier oil painting of the same subject.
We interviewed Anne Corless about her art practice.
Julie: You are a wildlife artist, a portrait painter and you specialise in medical illustration. How do you balance these different areas of your practice?
Anne Corless: I work in the creative arts as an artist, illustrator, designer, medical and bio-sciences artist/illustrator and as a writer. Before becoming a professional artist, I always had to balance different areas of my life to fit in time for my art…..now I have to balance different areas of my practice. Unless I am working on a drawing or painting for an exhibition, gallery or commission I find it useful to be able to combine my creative skills when working on some projects. As an example, in 2013 I worked on a project as an art workshop tutor/ designer and project manager for Clatterbridge Cancer Centre supported by BBC Radio Merseyside, Up for Arts and the Campaign for Drawing. Listeners of BBC Radio Merseyside were invited to attend art workshops which I ran, so they could create original artwork of well known landmarks in the city. I had the final pieces of artwork scanned and then using all the artwork I designed two large wall murals. These were printed by a specialist company before being put up in a mobile treatment unit, the first of its kind in the UK. It was an honour to be part of the promotion of the event at the BBC, to attend the official opening of the unit with everyone who had taken part and to see my name on a plaque on the wall. It meant a lot to me to be part of it, especially as my Dad was born in Liverpool.
In another project, this time for Dog Games Ltd here in the UK, I was asked to illustrate the benefits of a dog wearing a harness rather than a collar. Using Derwent’s watercolour pencils, I drew the dogs, had the artwork scanned and then drew the relevant anatomy and the dog harness with my Wacom tablet, using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, which I then combined digitally with the original artwork.
Choosing the medium to work with is often dependent on what the end use of the final image will be and in the case of the ‘digital eye’ it need to be printed out on a large signboard. I therefore created it using Adobe Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh, which being a vector program allows for the image to be enlarged without any loss of quality.
My least favourite part of being an artist is having to deal with the business side. However, when I joined the Fine Art Trade Guild I found I had access to a lot of information and advice. I enjoy taking part in Guild events and networking…..and being part of the Fine Art Committee.
Julie: Can you please tell us a bit about your painting process?
Anne Corless: Whatever project I work on, I like to use the same method of gathering all my reference material (photographs, sketches and jottings) to make a rough preliminary work on layout paper, using a light-box to explore other ideas, before launching into the final piece.
Unless I am working on a special commission where the reference material is supplied, I always use my own reference. I draw the composition on the support freehand, working loosely, using the preliminary work as a guide. The examples of my working practice here are oil paintings and as you can see, I like to ‘draw’ the composition on the support with a brush, often using raw umber paint thinned with turpentine. I always think my paintings look quite messy in the early stages as I try to identify the big shapes, values and anatomy; it is very different to the detailed look I like to achieve in the finished piece! It is only once this underpainting stage is complete that I start to work with colour. My preference for a support so far is canvas, probably due to the size of some of the work but I am always on the lookout for different options. I enjoy using Michael Harding Oil paints, adding layers of glazes which enable me to achieve the subtleties in the work alongside pure strong colour.
Julie: Do you paint from life, memory or photos?
Anne Corless: I enjoy painting from life, photos and sketches, memory and imagination, which is why I find it useful to make preliminary drawings before starting a final piece as I work through ideas (often too many ideas!) to reach a final composition. My reference for the cheetah oil painting comes old photos, memory and imagination having followed this beautiful animal for the day, many years ago in Kenya. The reference for the police horses oil painting was from a visit to a Lancashire Mounted Police Training day organised by the Association of Animal Artists, that I love being a member of. If I am working on a bio-sciences project then I may have to interpret images, rough sketches and jottings sent to me by the client. As a qualified scientific illustrator and medical artist my own experiences and knowledge of comparative anatomy/physiology help me interpret and work on a range of projects, not that it is always easy to do!
Julie: You work in pencil, charcoal, watercolours and oil. Do you have a favourite medium?
Anne Corless: Working traditionally, oil painting is probably my favourite medium closely followed by pencil, charcoal and watercolours! However, I also love working as a digital artist where I can work in many layers and create any effects I like and I can ‘undo’ any mistakes!
Julie: What is your favourite painting that you have ever done?
Anne Corless: I can get really involved with each piece of art as I try and create the images from my mind on to paper/ canvas or as a digital image. As I always say, if I look across the studio and feel as if a painting could come to life, then it is beginning to work….and that is what I am after with each one. My favourite painting is a simple watercolour painting of an elephant that almost magically appeared on the paper; maybe it was the emotion I invested in it as I tried to recall the experience of watching, sketching and photographing this magnificent creature in the wild. I use this image as part of my logo and the original is hung above my desk….and will never be sold!
The photograph here is of my mum and me in the wonderful Aberdare National Park in Kenya….years ago! There is nothing like seeing wildlife in its natural habitat to fire the imagination and make one want to create!
Julie: You are a tutor and demonstrator. You have just returned from an exciting post as tutor on board a cruise ship “Crossing the Arctic Circle” teaching watercolours. Please tell us about that.
Anne Corless: As a Guest Lecturer for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines I joined guests this year on the ‘Boudicca’, teaching art workshops as we travelled up the coast of Norway to the Arctic Circle to see the midnight sun! Workshops were held whilst at sea (non port days) and guests enjoyed working in watercolour and honing their artistic skills. The art workshops were suitable for both beginners or more experience artists..…or for those just wanting to join in for fun. I was delighted to see that the number of people attending the workshops actually increased at each session! We held an art exhibition on the last day of the cruise which showed the tremendous effort and achievements of everyone! A lovely experience.
A highlight of the trip for me was being able to take a small boat out to sea to visit the Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve with one of the biggest bird cliffs in Norway, home to white-tailed eagles and almost one million puffins. My experience as a wildlife artist has mostly been of hot countries and this is a part of the world that I have been intrigued about and wanted to visit for a very long time. We were literally surrounded by birds at every level as we approached the island. It was an incredible experience, even if I did have as many layers of clothes on as I could possibly manage to wear…..and it was summer!
Julie: What else do you teach?
Anne Corless: I work with different types of media so am happy to share my art techniques and experiences when visiting as Artist in Residence, as a Guest Lecturer or when teaching an art workshop. A highlight of 2015 was being invited to be filmed at Jacksons Art Supplies in London, whilst I painted a cheetah using Jacksons watercolours! I deliberately had very little reference material with me on filming days as I wanted to demonstrate (on the video) how it is possible to work on a painting with only a basic composition and drawing completed. I very much had to rely on my skills, memory and imagination!
This year I have enjoyed returning as Artist in Residence at ‘Nature in Art’ Gallery and Museum in Gloucestershire; “the world’s first museum and art gallery dedicated to fine, decorative and applied art inspired by nature.” Visitors are always keen to visit the Artist in Residence (who usually spend a week in the studio) and are often well informed about wildlife art and conservation. They enjoy talking about art materials and techniques and I often do short demonstrations, using a variety of mediums. It was very useful to have the ‘cheetah watercolour video’ on my laptop this visit (that had been filmed at Jacksons Art Supplies) as everyone loved watching it and had loads of questions! I was delighted to have so many people comment on how they noticed and liked the quality of ‘light’ and movement in my work, which they all felt must come from my first-hand experience of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat. Every time I visit Nature in Art I make sure I go around the galleries which are full of incredible artwork from artists around the world, many of whom I have admired for years.
I am a Derwent Ambassador and I love returning as Artist in Residence to the ‘magical’ Pencil Museum in Keswick, Cumbria each year, giving art demonstrations using a lot of the Derwent products and running an art workshop. Often artists return to my workshops each year and it is interesting to see the development on their work.
I also enjoy teaching medical art and earlier this year I was invited to be a Guest Lecturer at the ‘Queen Mary and Barts and the London Neuroscience Society’ (QMBL Neuroscience Society) in London where I taught an interactive workshop entitled ‘The Art of Medical Illustration’. Working from anatomical models students learnt how to do measured drawing; working with line, tone and colour.
Julie: Who are your artistic influences?
Anne Corless: Born in the UK, I travelled abroad with my parents as a young child and so my experiences of seeing art were incredibly varied. Early memories are of brightly coloured artwork, batiks, carvings and sculptures during my years living in Nigeria, Australia and Kenya. When I was in my middle teens I saw a David Shepherd wildlife print which inspired me to work as a wildlife artist. Like many of my friends living in Kenya, and in my case, having attended 12 schools around the world, I came back to the UK (term time) to board at Malvern Girls College in Worcestershire. Studying A level art, I was introduced to art from other parts of the world which started a lifelong fascination with art history. I love the work of Albrecht Dürer; ‘The Great Piece of Turf’ (1503) and ‘The Wing of a blue Roller (1512) inspire my work as a natural history illustrator. As an artist who now sells prints I find it fascinating to think that this was how Durer made his work accessible to the general public. Durer’s work also serves to remind that all is needed to create a piece of artwork is a skilled hand and keen observation of a subject.
As a medical artist I have studied and worked with human and comparative anatomy and have access to an array of reference material. Such knowledge helps inform my work as a figurative and portrait artist. Artists were not so fortunate in having such reference in the past and it is interesting to see that on the original front cover of ‘De Corporis Humani Fabrica’ 1543 (which shows the anatomist Andreas Vesalius at work) onlookers surrounding him are claimed to be other anatomists along with artists from Titian’s studio (considered by some to have illustrated the book). My love of portraiture leads me to Titian and works such as the ‘Portrait of Gerolamo’ painted around 1510 when he was in his early twenties. This pose would later appear in Rembrandt’s ‘Self Portrait at the Age of 34’, painted in 1640. A number of years ago I was fortunate to visit the Rembrandt Museum and also the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to see the magnificent ‘The Night Watch’ painted in 1642. At 363 cms x 438 cms this is considerable bigger than the largest work I have attempted! On another trip I visited the Oratory of the Co-Cathedral of St. John, Valletta in Malta to see work by Caravaggio, whose work I find fascinating. I love visiting the National Gallery in London. Works such as ‘Whisteljacket’ painted around 1762 by George Stubbs, move me to tears…every time! John Singer-Sargent is another favourite whose painting ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ (1886) I sat and studied for long, long periods of time.
In contrast, I also find the work of many illustrators inspirational and I am a fan of the illustrator Norman Rockwell, who painted the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the USA for many years and who also painted the iconic ‘The Problem We All Live With in 1964. The painting depicts 6 year old Ruby Bridges walking to Elementary School, surrounded by US Marshals, depicting a time when segregation was coming to an end. The painting was on loan to the White House in 2011.
More recently I find I am inspired by the work of a number of contemporary artists who promote good observational drawing skills and a knowledge of painting techniques, who I list in the next question.
Julie: Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
Anne Corless: I love the artwork of David Shepherd; as a teenager living in Kenya (for eleven years) I was originally inspired to work as a wildlife artist when I saw one of his limited edition prints and all these years later I am delighted to be a Contributing Artist for this charity and to sell original artwork and prints in the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Gallery! I am honoured to be a member of Artists for Conservation and love the work of so many of my fellow artists including John Banovich, Robert Bateman and John Seerey-Lester. Guy Combes is a favourite as is the work of his later father, Simon Combes. I am fascinated by the artwork of Raymond Harris Ching and admire his technical skill and his imaginative compositions. I love portraiture and figurative art, so enjoy following the work of Graydon Parrish, Jacob Collins and David Kassan. I am inspired by them all!
Julie: What is coming up next for you?
Anne Corless: My commissioned work is ongoing….but other than that I look forward to spending a bit of quiet studio time leading up to Christmas; working on some oil paintings for exhibitions next year and setting up my new on-line ‘art studio shop’: artstudioshop.annecorless.com.
I have some articles to finish writing and illustrating for Leisure Painter magazine, which I adore spending time doing and I also plan to develop a children’s book I have been illustrating and writing for a while!
Dates for next year are still being confirmed but I hope to take part in two exhibitions at least and I look forward to visiting a favourite venue as Artist in Residence. At the end of July 2016 I will be a Guest Lecturer on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines ‘Balmoral’, visiting the ‘Baltic Capitals and Stockholm Archipelago’ so I need to do my research to find reference for future work. I love drawing and painting birds and following my recent trip to Gjesværstappan Nature Reserve in Norway, I am keen to do more bird-watching.
Life as an artist may have its challenges, but it is never dull…!
Julie: Where can we see more of your art in the flesh and on-line?
Anne Corless: My website, www.annecorless.com, has examples of my artwork and links to other websites which feature my work. You can also follow me on my blog and on social media (links are on my website). I also have art for sale on my art studio shop: http://artstudioshop.annecorless.com.
I am honoured to be a ‘Supporting Artist’ of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and I have original artwork and also limited edition prints for sale at the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Gallery in Shalford, Guildford, Surrey (http://shop.davidshepherd.org/artist/anne-corless). Other representing galleries can be found on my website.
I plan to take part in a number of exhibitions in 2016, including:
As a member of the Fine Art Trade Guild I hope to exhibit in the Guild Artists Exhibition (May 2016) which will have a preview event during the Art and Framing Convention UK in Stratford Upon Avon and a follow on exhibition at the Fine Art Trade Guild’s Exhibition Space in London (http://www.fineart.co.uk/article/guild-artists-exhibition-2016-924.aspx).
As a member of the Association of Animal Artists I look forward to exhibiting in the Annual Exhibition held during April and May 2016 at Castle Park Arts Centre in Frodsham, Cheshire.