Amanda Mulquiney is a British figurative painter whose works often feature young, glamorous women, alone and tinged with melancholy. Her works combine candy colours with gold leaf, incorporating refined blended painting techniques with looser, gestural brush marks. In this interview Amanda generously shares practical tips for how to apply gold leaf, how to cope with painting in isolation, and her love of neon.
Lisa: How would you describe your art practice?
Amanda: In a nutshell, I would describe myself as a contemporary figurative painter. My work often features lone women set in imaginary shallow spaces. The work has become more about evoking a narrative from found images with an unconventional use of colour. I approach my work by translating images from the internet and fashion magazines into paint – seeking to create a tension between realism and painterly abstraction. Often contrasting bright, neon backgrounds with muted surreal tones.
Lisa: You’re known to use gold leaf in your paintings. How easy is it to apply the gold leaf – can you give a few tips about how you go about doing this, and how it works applying the paint over the top? What do you love about incorporating gold leaf into your painting?
Amanda: It’s a delicate process and one that certainly gets easier the more you practice. The first time I used gold leaf was in preparation for a commission where the figure was supposed to be quite regal and the client wanted a black and gold theme. Since then I’ve had a love affair with the stuff and (where appropriate) I love to use it for its reflective qualities and subtle texture. I love the way gold leaf can be used as a flat ground that contrasts with more detailed areas in a painting. It gives a reflective glow which works well when viewed in life – as the colours constantly change.
When it comes to applying gold leaf to a painting here are my top tips:
Firstly, I use imitation gold leaf which I find more robust than real gold leaf. Psychologically, I also find I’m less precious about using imitation rather than real gold sheets.
If you want to add gold leaf to a large area then invest in some gold size – the slower drying time will mean you have plenty of time to apply it carefully. A thinner application of size will help to prevent the gold leaf from splitting/cracking.
Once dry, you need to remove the excess leaf. Trust me, at this stage – It’s messy and gets everywhere! This might sound strange but my top tip is to use a vacuum in one hand and very soft brush in the other! I use a make-up brush – This will help you keep the sheen and get rid of most of the large overlaps.
You’ll find that even after a few attempts to remove the leaf that you’ll have tiny bits that will find their way into your paint. Get some cotton wool and gently rub the surface in circular motions, this’ll pick up any stray debris.
Before adding any paint, apply a layer of size or transparent gesso to protect the gold leaf from reacting with your oil colours.
Last but not least, embrace the shake and work with the imperfections.
Lisa: Do you have certain colours that you return to over and over again? What’s your usual palette, or one you might recommend, and why those colours in particular? Also do you thin your colours or extend with any mediums?
Amanda: Colour is incredibly important to my work and is something quite recognisable about my style. I hardly ever paint straight from the tube except when it comes to neon grounds, or highlights.
Typically I paint using oil colours – My favourite brands include Gamblin, Michael Harding, Old Masters and Jackson’s. I love oil colours for their depth of colour, lustre and flexibility.
When I start a painting I often apply a vibrant flat ground colour in acrylic – or even decorator’s paint.
When I’ve experiment with hyper-flat grounds – they help to make figures ‘pop’. I start with garish colours like a neon pink or luminous yellow, then I like to dive straight in with oils. I like the fizz and friction at play between different unexpected colour combinations and how they work together. The ground is often overwhelmingly bright at first – it’s an assault on your eyes! Then part of my painting journey is pairing this back, often down to one dominant colour. My oil palette starts pretty basic with a warm and cool colour of each primary plus titanium white and burnt umber.
When I’m painting figures or head studies – I love starting with a traditional ZORN palette – it can bring a warmth and are fantastic for creating flesh tones. This also stops me getting too bogged down in colour matching early-on.
The ZORN Palette:
• Cadmium red light
• Yellow Ochre / Naples Yellow
• Ivory Black
• Titanium white
My recent new additions to my palette are Gamblin’s Radiant Magenta and Quinacridone Red. The combination has a vibrancy that I haven’t managed to create with any other brands.
In terms of mediums, I tend to use linseed oil and Galkyd Lite. Galkyd is great, particularly when I have a deadline because it allows the paint to dry in 24 hours.
Looking back, it’s clear 2019 was the year of pink and gold leaf for me. One of the hardest things as an artist is to change your palette but I think it’s important to explore new pigments and push your work into new directions and materials. There are just so many, and when budgets are tight, it’s easy to return to your tried and tested colours. My goal for this year is to use one weird colour a month that I’ve never used before!
Lisa: Can you tell us a little bit about your love of Gamvar – do you apply it to every painting?
Amanda: Gamvar is my “go-to” varnish and I’ve used it on all my recent paintings! I love the way it saturates colours to bring more depth and provides a protective film. Bonus – you don’t have to wait 6 months to apply it.
Lisa: Are you an ‘alla prima’ or ‘layers-of-paint’ kind of painter? And how do you get that ultra smooth quality to your blending?
Amanda: I’m a strange hybrid, I love to paint alla-prima when I’m working small. However, when I’m working on larger pieces, I’ll start blocking in areas and then paint alla-prima – building out the piece section by section. This approach has its downsides as it can be hard to see the piece as a whole.
My blending secret is to use make-up brushes and fan brushes – I have loads in all shapes and sizes. I like to use them to push the paint around and blend colours together. I also love experimenting with ultra-smooth surfaces like aluminium and copper.
Lisa: At the time of writing we’re one week into recommended self-isolation as a result of the Coronavirus. How has it impacted upon your creativity so far and do you have any advice for any artists struggling with self-isolation, perhaps because other worries are occupying the mind and getting in the way of creativity?
Amanda: There’s no doubt that this pandemic will affect all of us in different ways. Life has certainly changed our normal daily routines… I’ve seen many posts on Instagram showing that many people who can’t work right now – are using their time to paint that painting they never did, or write that book that they’ve been dreaming of. Now’s the time to use creativity as a form of escape – and try to make the best of what is a sad situation.
As far as practical advice goes…I think it’s important to plan out your time and stick to it. I’m continuing to work from home but as soon as it hits 6pm I’m back in my home studio with a brush in hand. The internet is also a wonderful thing, if you’re in need of a friendly face or need an art critique – why not share your woes on Instagram, or get a WhatsApp group to talk about your work remotely.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Amanda: I’m juggling a lot at the moment. Alongside my full-time job – I have triptych commission that’s about 2m wide. In the pipeline I also have a small portrait commission. By the end of April I’m hoping to focus entirely on a new body of work for the Manchester Buy Art Fair in October. The title for the upcoming exhibition is ‘Painting Fast and Slow’ ….In a nutshell, I’ll be translating found imagery, often consumed at speed (from the internet) into a paintings which are then considered in a different light, viewed slowly. The process of translating images into paint adds a new dimension to the images in terms of narrative or meaning. The title ‘painting fast and slow’ will also refer to my intention to produce work at different speeds and with different limitations i.e. only use 3 colours, only using 10 brush-strokes, finish in 4 hours etc. etc… I like the idea of restrictions as they should bring about some new ways of working and surprising results. I’m hoping to focus on creating more challenging compositions, experimenting and gaining confidence along the way.
Lisa: How do you develop your compositions for painting? Do you do much drawing as preparation beforehand, and do you refer to source imagery?
Amanda: Painting is quite an investment in terms of time and materials so when I’m working on larger pieces (with more complex compositions) – I’ll use a combination of collage and photoshop. Often I’ll grid up and do a rough drawing before I start applying any paint. When I’m creating smaller studies I tend to jump straight in with oil and adjust as I work. For me it’s all about translating found images into paint rather than finding a likeness close to reality.
Lisa: What work of art are you most proud of and why?
Amanda: Oh that’s a tough one. If I had to choose, then it would have to be Girl with the Swirl Tattoo – it was the first oil paintings I ever did on aluminium. At first, it was difficult to get used to the surface as paint slides everywhere! After many hours of perseverance I got this ultra-smooth finish which I love. The stamp of approval was when I made it into my first-ever run of limited-edition prints which all sold-out in 24 hours. That’s when I thought to myself, “I’ve got my painting mojo back”. Outside approval shouldn’t be important but it certainly has motivated me to create more and take painting seriously again. This is the painting I look back on when I have those ‘meh’ painting sessions – which I’m sure we all have! – to remind myself that perseverance pays off in the end.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh (eventually) can we see more of your work?
Amanda: My work is on Instagram @amandamulquineyart where you can see all my work as it comes into being. Of course, there’s my online shop www.amandamulquineybirbeck.com where I have a select number of originals and limited-edition prints up for grabs.
I also have a small pop-up stall at Altrincham Market where I sell a small selection of artworks at relatively affordable prices. Upcoming dates are 4th-5th July, 5th & 6th September and 31st &1st November. Assuming it’s going ahead as planned, I’m exhibiting at the Manchester Buy Art Fair 2020 (9-11th October) at Manchester Central.
Last but not least, a few of my prints and originals are exclusively available through oneoffto25.com .
The ‘paintedwithjacksons’ hashtag on Instagram brings together works painted with Jackson’s art materials. Follow #paintedwithjacksons to see works by Amanda Mulquiney among others, and please use the tag to share your own ‘painted with Jackson’s’ works on Instagram!