Vivienne Rew was the winner of the People’s Choice Award in the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2021 with her work Thistledown. Here, she tells us about the nature of the objects she paints and shares some insight into her studio practice.
Voting for this years People’s Choice Award opens on Wednesday 23rd March. Until then you can register to vote.
Above image: Thistledown, Vivienne Rew, Water-based medium on paper, 63 x 89 cm | 24 x 35 in
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Vivienne: I was always interested in a career involving art and design. I did A level art at school and then a degree in Graphic Design at North Staffordshire Polytechnic.
Clare: Where does a drawing begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Vivienne: I used to draw from life but found that once I was working on the large botanical paintings of the poppies that were part of my RHS exhibit by the time I was ready to paint the subject had changed so much that I wasn’t able to give an accurate representation of my initial drawing.
I started using photographs as reference and take as many photographs as possible of my plant material from the angle I would like to paint. I make colour references before the plant fades as photos do change the colour balance especially with greens and yellows.
A lot of my recent subjects, for example the thistle and hydrangea are dead and whilst I still use the photographs it is so useful to be able to refer back to the real plant material as there are always parts of the photograph that are ambiguous, as you are looking at a 3D subject in 2D.
Clare: What is it about an object in nature that inspires you to recreate it in paint? What does the visual study of these objects tell you them?
Vivienne: My favourite subjects have to have a complex structure and different textures. I find the twisted structures of dead and dying plants more interesting than a flower in full bloom. I enjoy painting on a large scale as it enables me to see details and colours in what might be considered a dull brown plant that you would normally walk past without a second glance.
Clare: Can you tell us about your easel? Is it custom made? It looks incredible!
Vivienne: I love my easel, it’s an old architects drawing board that has had a pine top fitted. I bought it from a salvage yard. As my studio area is in the house I wanted something that was a piece of furniture that I’d enjoy rather than a modern board. It weighs a ton so it’s a permanent fixture.
Clare: Can you tell us about your preferred surfaces and paints to work with?
Vivienne: I used to use Fabriano Artistico Extra White HP 640 gsm and was lucky enough to have a small supply of the old stock. Sadly this has run out and I am really struggling to find a replacement. I really enjoy painting on Kelmscott Vellum but it’s so expensive that I have restricted myself to very small pieces. Most of my paints are Winsor & Newton and I have a few favourite Schmincke colours.
Clare: What are your biggest frustrations as an artist? Do you have any special techniques to overcome them?
Vivienne: Currently my biggest frustration is finding a new paper. I am testing a few alternatives, my favourite is Fluid 100 but I haven’t been able to find it in large sheets or in 640 gsm. I also struggle to juggle work with painting which is another reason a lot of my paintings are of dead subjects as I have no time for painting in the summer.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Vivienne: I love Winsor & Newton Series 7 miniature brushes.
Clare: Do you have a regular sketchbook practice? If so, can you tell us about how often you draw, where and with what materials?
Vivienne: Slightly embarrassed to say that I don’t. My spare time is taken up with training my dog, walking and cycling plus work. It’s something I always promise myself I will do as I think it would improve my work but I never find the time.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Vivienne: I really admire several contemporary botanical artists: Fiona Strickland, Robert McNeill, Susannah Blaxhill, Pandora Sellars and Rory McKewen. I also admire the work of David Poxon, his subjects have a lot of the qualities I find exciting, the textures and colours he creates in watercolour really inspire me. I’ve always loved Turner’s watercolour paintings.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Vivienne: Usually the very beginning of a painting and the very end… the bit in between is filled with self doubt and a certain amount of frustration with tiny glimmers of hope, but any day I manage a few solid hours without distractions is a bonus.
Clare: Can you tell us where we can see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Vivienne: You can find me on Instagram @vivrewbotanicalart_ I don’t post very often but my most recent work is in there. I’m hoping to take part in some art fairs in 2023.