Bruce Pearson SWLA demo at NAPF Insurance Conference 2014

Wildlife artist Bruce Pearson SWLA was a fish out of water in October at one of the UK's key Insurance conferences.

The National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) is the leading body in the UK for providing services to those involved in workplace pensions. They held their annual conference this year in central Liverpool, on 15th and 16th October 2014.

Bruce was in attendance, working hard to promote the Society of Wildlife Artists, Federation of British Artists (FBA) and the Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC), with whom the FBA maintain an active relationship with after the PIC commissioned a series of Penguin paintings.

He sketched throughought each day, attracting interest to PIC's stand. He offered lessons to eager bystanders and at the end of the day provided PIC with two of his own works, to give out as prizes. Both artist and corporation were really pleased with the day.

Max Angus SWLA Talks Wildlife Art Prints

Hi Max, tell us about your work?

Ever since I was a child, I have loved drawing ‘life’ as a subject. I used to draw portraits but as a portrait artist, one is relatively bound to commissions. I discovered printmaking and found endless possibilities in wildlife, which allows me to both accept commissions and exhibit.

How do you go about creating one of your works?

I use a sketchbook to capture a subject found either in my garden at home, or by sitting for hours in a bird hide, the corner of a field or the lea of a hedgerow. I find using a pencil is difficult enough to capture the movement; colour would be just too difficult. Back in the studio, the linocuts lend themselves to the outlines and whilst I do check the colours of the wildlife in bird guides, I often get carried away trying to achieve a pleasing artwork.

What would be artistically challenging for you?

Trying to sketch wildlife on water or in water. Water-based wildlife moves with different actions. I generally spot wildlife in fairly constant poses.

Do you own any works of art, except your own?

I love other people’s work and especially printmakers. I’ve run out of wall space. It feels a little vain to only have your own work to look at.

Tell us about your membership of the SWLA?

I am very proud to be part of the SWLA and the FBA. I first exhibited in 2006 at The Mall Galleries with a special tryptic, ‘Only Coots go for it!’ Over the next few years I had more work accepted and was made an Associate. Full Membership followed a couple of years on. During the 2014 exhibition I have been asked to assist a printmaking workshop with Bob Greenhalf SWLA. I have always refused to give lessons and my studio is a very private place. I create work in very different ways from how I was originally taught. For the SWLA workshop I am sure I will be letting out many secrets.

What would you say was the benefit of commissioning a work of art from a member of the FBA?

Buying or commissioning an artist’s work has to be first and foremost about acquiring an artwork that is pleasing.  Secondly, the provenance of the artwork is important. There are many people with serious talent, but they are not consistent. The FBA members are elected to the societies by recognition of both their talent, and commitment to creating quality works of art. A buyer is not just acquiring a piece of art but investing in an artist’s future. The Mall Galleries is always a pleasurable and inspiring place to visit.

Interview with Ben Johnson, Winner of The Threadneedle Prize Peoples' Choice Award

Hi Ben. How do you create your incredible works?

I went to art school aged 15 and have basically been in my studio ever since (over 50 years).  I am always trying to find new subjects, exploring  and questioning my process, trying to find  the most appropriate method to convey my enthusiasms.

I have increasingly pursued more detail and this has lead to intricate stencil making.  For example, in The Room of the Revolutionary there are two chairs.  Each chair is made up of 40 stencils and each stencil takes 2 days to prepare.  This means 160 days of preparation before the painting starts and the chairs are just a small area of the canvas.  In this sort of situation I will work with assistants to share the workload.  They are usually recent art graduates or students.  I see this as a mutually beneficial collaboration and I feel privileged to be able to work with people just beginning their lives in the world of art.  I put in the hours- 9 – 8, 5 days a week- and then visit museums and galleries at the weekend.

You’ve exhibited all over the world- from the Pompidou to the Dubai Art Fair, to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Have you noticed any differences in attitudes towards art?

Each country has its own historical culture that will tend to influence its acceptance of ideas but what I have witnessed is the growth of interest in museum going.  They are not seen as ivory towers but as places for social exchange open to all.  This is all very positive but the gallery scene does bewilder me (I am still quite naive).  Art has increasingly become merged with commodity; signatures are traded and made objects of investment at certain levels.

The Mall Galleries champions figurative art by living British artists. What are the most exciting developments you’ve seen in British figurative art during your extensive career?

When I was at the RCA painting school, abstraction dominated. There was a sense of hierarchy and exclusivity as some painters only respected and looked at others that were commited to their particular area of abstraction.  Additionally, painters did not talk to printmakers, printmakers did not talk to illustrators, illustrators did not talk to industrial designers etc…  This has all changed for the better.  Today there is much more collaboration and exchange of ideas.  

Also, an awareness of the social responsibility of the art community has developed.  The form and language of a painting is not the main concern, but the content is of greater importance and all forms of communication are legitimate.

What is your favourite type of commission or project?

Big, ambitious, challenging – a commision that forces me to look at and consider a new aspect of life outside the studio and then puts me back in the studio to explore my methods and materials.

My most important project was a commission from the city of Liverpool and the Walker Art Gallery – a cityscape that took 3 years to complete, with a full time team of 6, and the last five weeks completed in public, with an open studio in the gallery. Fifty-one thousand visitors came to watch.  I gave a talk every day – to school children, women’s groups,  asylum seekers, children with learning difficulties, architects and diverse groups; and for many of them it was the first time they had been in a museum.  They had not come to see art but to see how someone was presenting their city that they love so much. Many projects were started in schools and community groups as a result.

It was a very humbling experience. I still have many good friends from that time in the great city and the painting has now been seen by many millions visiting the Museum of Liverpool.

Do you have any tips for art purchasers, both big and small?

Only buy if you love the work and the work is the by-product of love.

Jenny Halstead PS on her 'Loose and Lively' Pastels

From an article / interview by Ken Gofton for the Pastel Society newsletter

Jenny Halstead of the Pastel Society spent Summer on an unusual project.

She was recording the eighteenth – possibly final – Silchester excavation. Part of the undergraduate Archaeology courses at University of Reading, the annual event is known for attracting many volunteers, also.

A book on the excavations, using Halstead’s work, is to follow. This year’s collaboration follows a hugely successful residency last year, at the University’s ‘Harris Garden’; on which she created both a book, and an exhibition, at the University’s ‘Museum of English Rural Life’.

Halstead was elected to membership of the Pastel Society in 2010 and serves as honorary secretary. Her early career was spent as a medical illustrator, requiring her to work quickly and accurately in operating theatres. About 14 years ago, she decided to return to her first love, fine art, and today she is known for loose and lively work.

“I went on a portrait course, and found myself working on a very large scale, with big, chunky oil pastels. I needed to paint by moving my whole body, not just working from the wrists. That was a very enjoyable change, reinforced by the pleasure of being able, for once, to use any colour I wanted. And when I moved to soft pastels, with an enormous colour range to choose from, everything opened up for me.”

People in every day settings are her favourite subject, and her time in medical illustration has cemented a deep knowledge of anatomy. Saying this, often she will depict a life-model, but invent a setting, using her imagination. Additionally, picking up abstract patterns in a landscape holds a particular fascination for her, to great visual effect.

She works on landscapes in the studio rather than on location, refering to sketchbooks for information. For example, it is clear that her recent travels to the US and Cuba have informed her latest work.

“Keeping a sketchbook is a wonderful discipline. The concentration required to record a scene, however briefly, means that the whole experience of being there on that day comes flooding back when the time comes to produce a painting.”

Robin Warnes PS on Abstracted Figurative

Suffolk Sky

Hi Robin, tell us about your work

My work, whether in pastel or in oil, draws upon my experience, whether visual or emotional. I explore relationships of colour and composition, looking for new or extreme values.

I  consider my work to be abstracted rather than abstract, as drawing from life is one of my main sources of reference. I draw continually (when I have time). My thought processes are a culmination of experience, process and development.


The colours, level of abstraction and subjects of your work vary hugely. Do you have any preferences and what would be challenging for you?

Some artists work within a particular colour range or palette; I like to stretch my boundaries and push colour and tonal relationships to their limits. This is what I find most challenging. For me it’s the culmination of subject, composition and colour, working together to unify the whole image.


Are you trying to evoke mood in the viewer through your use of colour, or are you simply laying down the colour as you see it?

I am interested in pictorial colour and engaging the viewer in the world I create. Sublime elements are of interest to me, and creating those relationships in my work, which has been referred to as ‘sonorous’. I try to create relationships between mood and colour, and enforce links between subject and viewer.


Does it matter to you whether viewers of your work see the subject you have depicted through it’s abstraction, or are you happy for them to enjoy the piece regardless of subject? 


As an artist, you hope the viewer engages in your work, which does not necessarily mean they have to understand the different facets created in the work. I feel it’s more about the viewer simply enjoying it, but taking them on a visual  journey of discovery so that they can feel part of the work, rather than just identifying the place or subject.


Do you own any works of art, except your own?

I have a collection of art from classical plaster casts, to African wooden and bronze figures, to contemporary prints, paintings and sculpture.


Tell us about your membership of the PS

I applied and was accepted into the Pastel Society in 2012, after an extensive period of illness. Unable to paint, I had decided to work in pastel again, having not done so since the nineties. I had pastels in private and public collections, including those of Lord Gowrie (former Minister for the Arts), Ipswich Borough Council (from my time as Artist in Residence) and the Richard Ellis Group in the City of London; but had chosen to focus on painting.

At present I am very busy as lecturer in Fine Art and Painting at University Campus Suffolk on the B.A and the M.A programmes, so sadly participating in workshops or any other activity for the Pastel Society is currently quite difficult.


What would you say was the benefit of commissioning a work of art from a member of the FBA?

FBA artists have proven themselves in their field. Being invited to join the PS was in itself very important in terms of recognition of my work, I also won the 2013 La Maison du Pastel Award and have a piece of work soon to be included in a book entitled ‘The Bible of Contemporary Drawing and Painting’, due to be published in 2015 in England and America.