Lymington artist Shelia Hope captures the imagination of art expert Sandra Smith
PUBLISHED: 16:26 04 December 2014 | UPDATED: 16:26 04 December 2014
A form of shorthand, copious note taking - the results of which are filed in to categories - and a commitment to publicity are not skills normally associated with artists; nor preoccupations of those for whom creativity is a calling. Add the pleasure of listening to Test Match commentary and you might even begin to question their chosen career path.
In getting to know Sheila Hope however, I discover the complexities of the way she approaches subjects is part of a methodology; if not an holistic tactic forged from her background as an interior designer. It is also her means of processing ideas until she reaches the point of translating those concepts onto paper.
“I work in a quick way, producing perhaps ten drawings in an hour, like shorthand,” she explains. “I also take a lot of colour notes if I want to capture an aerial landscape, such as when I fly to Australia. I’m thinking all the time and work myself up to a painting. My notes are put in to categories. When I figure out what I want to do it sets me off to work on a series.”
Imagination, inevitably, is crucial to this Lymington artist. But what equally impresses is the ability to submerge herself in distant memories, simultaneously drawing on and amplifying her recollections to capture images which are as personal to her as they are appealing to the onlooker.
“During winter I can transport myself back to Australia, where I spent several years as a child, just through thinking and remembering.”
Whilst the span of colours in many of Sheila’s paintings may appear to be modest, the juxtaposition of pale and subtle tones with others which are more striking and intense is profound. In Lands End Triptych, for instance, the viewer is first lured to the richness of the ocean before being reminded of the gentle, more muted, tones of the shore. Similarly, Cove also teases the senses. An imposing sea, dominating the bay, initially catches the eye. Yet a balance is achieved via the gentle hues of the cliffs and headland.
Although art has always been an innate subject, even from a young child, Sheila cites a close family member as one of her greatest influences.
“My grandmother was a painter, weaver and craftswoman in just about everything.When I stayed with her I would sit at one end of a pine kitchen table while she cooked. There was a Bunsen burner in the middle of the table, used to help her hand craft leather flowers for Harrods. She would let me do whatever I liked.”
Whilst living in Melbourne, Sheila studied interior design and opted for an Architecture and Interior Design course when the family returned to the UK. She married during her final year and then combined motherhood with working from home as an interior designer. The lure of art, however, remained.
“I loved my job but my mind was always going back to what I wanted to develop. Lots of shops and companies offered their own design service anyway so I just concentrated on drawing and painting. I did it for myself; when something is instinctive, you just have to do it.”
An aptitude for self promotion remains as strong as her career commitment.
“When I first moved to Lymington I went into a gallery and took them some simple shorelines which immediately sold. I exhibited in a number of galleries and have participated in Hampshire Open Studios. I’ve put a lot of time into my publicity.”
These days concentrating mainly on landscapes, Sheila’s increasingly abstract style manifests itself in all her work, including her collaboration with the English National Ballet. “When the company is in Southampton I pop in and out of the theatre during rehearsals, classes and performances. I sit wherever I like and just draw. It might be in the dark but when I come back to look at the drawings, I work out some semi-abstract images.”
In a creative environment comprising a large studio with loft space in a converted garage, commissions are crafted and visitors are welcomed; whilst Radio 4 provides a sporting accompaniment.
That devotion to art takes precedence in her life is indisputable. She confesses to keeping 100 of her own paintings at home and, as we talk, is keen to show me sketches, paintings of a variety of sizes up to 4’x3’ and work in progress. High powered galleries, she insists, hold little appeal though she would like to explore the Australian art market as well as make contacts in Singapore, where her son lives.
Striking me as the sort of person unconstrained by specific methods or techniques, I’m not surprised to hear that Sheila utilises acrylic, gouache, watercolour and an array of mixed media. Knives are handy for scoring paper into which substances such as graphite powder are rubbed. She favours light and dense pencils for drawings, which make up about half her output. This prompts me to question what determines whether a subject is painted or drawn.
“It’s the way I’m feeling. A drawing can be so simple but say all that needs to be said. I never work on a single piece of work,” she continues. “I may have six to ten pieces relating to a subject.”
A healthy proportion of Sheila’s output is commissions, often from previous customers.
“At the moment I have enough commissions to last me 18 months. I meet with the client and we work through what they want, but they give me the freedom to get on.”
As someone who is not afraid to voice her opinion, I sense she considers it her duty to advise clients if, for instance, they request a painting when she feels a drawing would be more appropriate.
Despite her travels and international aspirations, this amiable artist is just as content to catch the Lymington Ferry to Yarmouth and absorb inspiration via her local landscape, since it is her knack of observing and recreating experiences that shape the spirit of her portfolio.
“I am an instinctive painter but distance from reality is the key, making the creative process unpredictable and exciting.”
Conversing with Sheila is informative and stimulating on an artistic level, and hugely entertaining from a personal perspective. Listening to her ideas, which flow as readily as paint from a spilt pot, it is easy to tap into such unabated enthusiasm.
“The most fulfilling part of what I do is actually working! My ambition is to continue enjoying it.There is still much more to explore.”
Find out more about Sheila at sheilahope.co.uk
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