Sheila Chapman is an emerging contemporary painter based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Initially, Sheila studied physics at Oxford University before embarking on a career as a patent attorney for over ten years. However, her artistic nature was never far from the surface and she decided to follow her lifelong passion for art by returning to education and obtaining a B.A. Degree in Fine Art at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) where she also took part in the ECA Degree Show in 2016. Sheila has exhibited her artwork at various exhibitions over the last few years and her artworks are now held by various private collectors.
Artist - Sheila Chapman
"I love colour and the fluidity of paint, and trying to capture the richness of life in painted texture and marks. At the start of each work I use very fluid acrylic paint in pools and runs: I tilt the surface around to let the paint flow naturally in its own paths, while at the same time trying to coax it into shapes capturing the character of the subject. As the painting progresses I often switch to water-based oil paint to give richness and depth to the colours, and achieve greater detail and texture.
Painting for me is a way of distilling experience and thinking about life. The natural environment interests me as a living, changing organism which will always affect people's lives and which people, in turn, will always affect. I wonder how important the environment will become in the not too distant future and what it will ultimately mean to all of us." - Sheila Chapman
"On the Pier", Sheila Chapman, Acrylic on Panel, 20cm x 15cm, 2017
What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?
I’ve enjoyed art ever since I was at school. I decided to go down the path of becoming a scientist, but always kept doing art as a hobby. When I started working I took evening art classes for several years and then decided to do a part-time art degree at Edinburgh College of Art, and have never looked back. Now I combine being an artist with looking after my home and family.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I am an expressionist at heart, but my work is always inspired by my life and my surroundings and things I come across in my everyday life. I like to try and capture the emotions and feelings behind everyday events, in paint and colour.
What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?
Partly circumstance. I earned a living working full time as a patent attorney for several years, and then I had two children and so time for making art has always been constrained by circumstances and so it’s not been practical for me to travel widely or spend large expanses of time solely making art .e.g. artist residencies, or foreign study trips. I make art about my life and the things I experience on a day-to-day basis, as that is what I see around me and what I’m drawn to. I am always thinking about art, and seeing possible paintings in scenes around me and issues I’m thinking about e.g. the natural environment, children not being outdoors much these days due to tablets/phones and city living, and the ephemeral-ness of life and those joyous moments which may pass us by before we realise they are gone.
"Autumn Botanics", Sheila Chapman, Egg Tempera/Gesso on Board, 2017
What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?
Nature is my biggest inspiration, but also watching my children gorw up in the world, and wondering what their lives, and their own chidren’s lives, will be like – I worry about how the world’s environment is changing and the ways in which that will inevitably have a big impact on people’s lives, in the future.
Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, may be even other artists?
Yes, my evening class tutors at Edinburgh College of Art gave me a great grounding in mark making and using and combining different materials, and my tutor Joan Smith was very supportive and encouraging throughout the course of my part-time degree.
When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?
At the moment I prefer to work on wood panel, using acrylic to start with but then sometimes switching to water-miscible oil paint for the final layers. My favourite tool is my plant sprayer bottle which I use to move fluid acrylic paint around in an abstract way on the panel surface, at the start of my paintings. Apart from that I use a number of different types brushes but tend to prefer square end ones, rather than round.
Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?
It normally take a while for a new idea for the next body of work to form in my mind? Sometimes I am thinking about several possibilities and not quite yet decided, so I may make some things and just see where that takes me. In general I start with photos and/or drawings of something, could be a place or a person, and then I’ll make some small drawings/paintings on that theme and from that ideas for larger pieces, or new ideas, may evolve.
In the actual painting process I usually lay down washes of watercolour or acrylic ink (if the work is on paper) or layers of fluid acrylic paint (on gessoed wood or stretched canvas), which I spray with water and move around the surface using brushes and rags till I achieve shapes and forms that roughly correspond with areas of the image I am planning to paint or draw. Once those layers are dry I work on top of that to add more detail to the image, which evolves from there.
Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is it more a case of when the moment is right you work?
I tend to work mostly while my children are at school. There is no set routine, it just depends on what stage I am at with any ongoing projects/paintings. Sometimes I am outside sketching or taking photographs as research for more detailed pieces of work. Or sometimes I am in my studio preparing surfaces, starting new pieces, or finishing off current works in progress. Sometimes I have to let layers of paint dry before the next stage of a piece, so I usually have several pieces on the go so I can swap back and forward between them. This also stops me getting too bogged down in detail on any one piece, while they are still evolving.
I also do commissions, so sometimes I will have set aside certain times to work on those.
"Family Tree", Sheila Chapman, Mixed Media on Panel, 20cm x 15cm, 2017
When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?
I usually work on multiple pieces at the same time, but all on a common theme, whatever theme I am working with at the time. I usually have the same ongoing project or theme for several months at a time. If I am working on a larger piece I may concentrate on that though once it has got past the mid-way stage, until it’s finished.
How has your art evolved to be where it is today?
I think my work has come a long way in terms of mastery of materials, composition and texture/surface. Over the years the texture of the surface and of the paint itself has become more important in my work and how to exploit them to achieve the most interesting effects in the finished piece. Also /I use to just paint what was in front of me, but now it is a much more cerebral process and I have things I want to say with each piece.
Which of your artworks are you most proud off?
Currently I’m most proud of my painting “Melting Ice” which made the final selection for the 2018 Columbia Threadneedle Prize exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. Over 4000 artworks were entered from artists across 32 European countries and I’m very proud that my painting was in the final 104 pieces selected for the exhibition.
Prior to that I was also very happy with the paintings I showed in my degree show at Edinburgh College of Art in June 2016 (they are all sold now).
Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?
There are many! I like Peter Doig’s huge landscape paintings – I saw some “in the flesh” an exhibition in Edinburgh a few years ago -love his use of colour. I also like Marlene Dumas’ and Chantal Joffe’s figurative work for their sparing but highly expressive use of colour and paint to brilliantly capture the human form.
If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?
I think the era we live in now is the most free for artists as it is possible to go in any direction you are drawn to with art these days. There are many different strands of painting alive and well today. That does though present the difficulty of it being more of a challenge to choose what to paint, and why.
What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?
There is so much expendable visual imagery all around us and in front of us, via screens and phones, advertising, social media, etc, these days that I think you have to try to do something different in order to capture people’s imaginations. There is enough flashy, graphic and striking imagery so I like to make paintings that are more contemplative, and give something more as you look at them again and again. Although I paint realistic subjects the paintings themselves often become more dreamlike or melancholy as they progress, which I think invites viewers to be more thoughtful and maybe interpret the image in their own way.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?
Just keep making art! That will be the hardest thing, especially after you leave college. I find that life nearly always conspires to prevent you from making art so you need to exert sheer will power and determination to keep the time and space available to be able to keep doing it. Also, it may not be possible to make your living solely from being an artist so it’s important to think about how else you will earn money while still having enough space in your life to make your art.
Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is there another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?
In general I’m drawn to paintings which bridge the gap between abstract and representational art, but always rooted in the shapes and forms of life around us.
We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?
I worry about overworking pieces if I spend too long on them, so I’m usually quite good about stopping myself going beyond a certain point. Sometimes less is more, so the eye has more to do to be drawn into and investigate the image fully.
Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expressing your creative nature?
I make art as a way of expressing my experience of life and in the hope that others will find a connection in my work which resonates with their own lives. Maybe a kind of truth in what it is to be human. This is what always drives me on to make the next piece.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on a new body of paintings and drawings inspired by Blackford Pond, a local nature reserve close to where I live in Edinburgh. It is a green haven in the city and there is always something interesting to see there -I especially like hunting for unusual looking fungi and taking photographs of them, which I sometimes use as reference material for future paintings and drawings. It is a popular spot for local dog walkers and runners, as there is a big hill next to the pond (Edinburgh Observatory sits on top of the hill) and there are woods, lots of mature trees and wild vegetation there. The pond itself is also popular with mothers and children who like to feed the ducks and swans there.
I am interested in how people experience and connect with nature in our modern life, especially people like myself who live in a city, and this is a theme which often finds its way into my work.
Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?
Not since I finished my degree at art college. While I was there I was part of a body of mature students studying for a degree part time – they came from all different backgrounds and former lives/professions, and it was very interesting seeing their work evolve and progress over the years of study. We were also able to support each other through the exams/assessments. It is this kind of collegiate atmosphere that is very difficult to find as an artist in the world outside of college. I keep in touch with them through social media though and sometimes go to visit exhibitions with other artist friends, and we often also see each other at exhibition openings of friends, or other artists we know.
When is your next exhibition? Is it a solo or group exhibition? Could you tell us a little about the exhibition, when and where it is?
I am currently exhibiting a large painting in the 2018 Columbia Threadneedle Prize exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, from 31st Jan – 17th February. I also have a painting in the Society of Scottish Artists (SSA) exhibition OPEN in the RSA Galleries, The Mound, Edinburgh from 29 Jan – 8 March 2018
To view Sheila's full collection - The Online Art Gallery of Sheila Chapman