Questions & Answers with Angela Brittain

This weeks Q&A is with figurative painter Angela Brittain. Her distinctive, colourful paintings are comments of familiar situations, stories full of life a movement. The stories she tells us vary from humorous to more serious and are always thought provoking and identifiable. Read on to find out about her inspirations and how her work evolves.

Angela Brittain , They stayed until sundown

Angela Brittain, They stayed until sundown

SG: Where do you get your inspiration from?

AB:My inspiration comes from personal observation of things going on around me, lines from a poem/song or sometimes things people say. I am often moved to paint something that affects women as so much is silently born.

SG: Which artists do you admire?

AB:I should have been born in the twenties, as I love the artists of the 20’s & 30’s like Stanley Spencer, Edward Burra, and Diego Rivera. Living artists I admire are Mick Rooney and George Large.

SG: Can you talk about your ideas and how they evolve?

AB: Where my ideas come from is so random that I can’t pinpoint their birth. My most productive time for thinking them through is around 4am when my mind is uncluttered. In the following days I start to sketch my thoughts, usually on tracing paper as I like to overlay my sketches, reverse them etc. and it saves me constantly redrawing. My next stage is to consider the focus and the lines that lead the viewer to what I want to highlight. At this stage I may need reference so I either ask my long suffering husband to pose or I go onto Google to find out exactly what a rabbit or a chicken looks like. Instant death for me is to keep using the photo so I have to “feel” the shapes rather than copy them and the reference is firmly hidden. When the drawing has taken shape I photograph it and work on scamp-size prints with crayons. I work to a limited colour palette and decide on the harmony and contrast of the colours to create directional flow.

Below is an example of my workings for “The Notes Carried on the Wind

Stage 1     Drawing for “The Notes Carried on the wind”

Stage 1 Drawing for “The Notes Carried on the wind”

Stage 2 Colour plan

Stage 2 Colour plan

Stage 3 Final painting

Stage 3 Final painting

SG: How would you describe your work?

AB: My work is narrative, figurative expressionism. That sounds rather pretentious but art curators like to label artists so I suppose that’s where I fit. What it doesn’t really say about my work is that I love to inject movement and an element of wit.

SG: What is a ‘typical’ workday for you like?

AB: I’m restless if household jobs need attending to so they have to be done & dusted first. By 11am I am usually in my studio. I am lucky to have a dedicated garden room with a nice outdoor feel and light. I usually catch up on emails and bills and it depends on whether I have an ongoing painting or I need to do some marketing what I do next. I had 12 years doing PR & marketing for big corporates so I should be a dab hand but I find it a real chore doing it for myself but highly necessary. My efforts are directly in proportion to results! After lunch is fun time and I crack on with my latest picture or think and plan the next one. I work until about 6.30pm when I close the blinds and become a social being again. 

SG: Is there a specific theme or concept you keep in all of your work or does it change with each series?

AB: I change my themes, depending on my thoughts at the time. I did a number of works on the theme of people who are in the same situation but experiencing very different reactions. I sometimes come back to this. I try to keep a consistency of style so my work looks as if it’s done by me but only in a loose way. I don’t want to be a slave to one technique as the excitement of what I do is the surprise I also get when a painting is finished.

Angela Brittain , Flying high

Angela Brittain, Flying high


SG: Tell us about the materials and techniques of your latest work. Is there a specific process and set up for creating your paintings?

AB: I had some fun recently doing three linocuts. It was very liberating to work in such a different medium and took me back to my foundation year at Epsom Art School. My latest work is watercolour crayons & gouache. I chose this medium to create a softer effect than my usual medium of oil on canvas. I built up the intensity of colour layer by layer with the crayons first and used gouache for highlights and deep contrast. When I work in oils I under paint in a colour opposite and then try to work the whole painting together, only honing in on detail at the end. In my head my painting is always going to be simple and understated. What appears before me is usually highly finished and quite precise. I have been on courses to loosen up but it only affects my work for a while before I revert to my comfortable style. Perhaps the next one… 

SG: Are you a part of any artists groups or organisations that have been beneficial (to your work in general or career as an artist)?

AB: I have been involved with Horsham Artists Open Studios for four years which has helped me get to know local artists and establish a local group of people who like & buy my work. I am a member of the West Sussex Art Society (WSAS) and they have two exhibitions around Chichester & Worthing each year plus an interesting programme of talks from artists & sculptors. I am also an elected member the United Society of Artists (UA) which gives me an opportunity to exhibit in London twice a year in addition to the open submissions I do to the SWA and ROI.

Claudia Elliott