'Artists can experience complete elation and then utter despair within 10 seconds and two brushstrokes. When work might take days, months or even years, the journey can be quite a roller coaster ride.'
Michael Riddle works from a ‘making room' in London. He mainly paints people and faces, and you should take the time to view his artist information on his website (See links below the interview). Here is an artist with a clear love for people and their stories, and although all artists enjoy a certain solitude, the lockdowns in Britain have been difficult.
Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio?
My current studio is a spare room in my house looking onto a busy London street. When my daughter was young we set the room up to have fun creating little models and things so it became known as “the making room”. She has grown up now and left home for uni, but I’m still painting in the room. I have thought about renting a studio space and would like to be closer to other artists, but I also like being able to just paint whenever I want, without a journey to a studio.
My dream studio would be set in a large garden so I could see the birds and flowers as I paint, with fellow artists close by for a bit of company at coffee time. As it’s a fantasy, it would always be summer and there would be an endless supply of coffee, beer, chocolate cake and marmite on toast.
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?
Sometimes I feel like I need music and other times I need it to be totally quiet, but it depends what I’m painting. I’ve got quite a mixed taste so might listen to some old mellow 20’s music one day and something loud and frenzied the next. But I have found that I tend to latch onto the rhythm and emotion of music at times and my brushstrokes can start to follow a heavy beat. I’ve occasionally got to the end of an energetic song and realised that I’ve made a total mess as I’ve been dabbing about to the rhythm of the music.
Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/ keep a balance?
Here in the UK at the moment we are in another lockdown and the year has been very difficult for any human interaction, so this is something I’ve become much more aware of. For a long time I worked for a few days a week in a part time job which allowed me to meet people. I probably stayed in the job longer than I should have, but loved the people and the social contact. This year of repeated lockdowns has made me think that I may need to get a studio space so that I’m not so isolated in the future. In the meantime, Instagram has been a lifesaver, there are some lovely artists out there to talk to.
What is your favourite/ least favourite part of the creative process?
The times that I most enjoy tend to be when I grab my brush and just get stuck into a more sketchy piece, without pre-drawing, and complete it in a session. There is something very satisfying about beginning with a blank canvas and just painting without stopping. I sometimes set up a little time lapse for this sort of painting to force me not to spend too long on it. I guess it’s like the instant gratification of eating a doughnut. More finished pieces can be less enjoyable as you get to the end where you are making very specific decisions and small adjustments which can make or break a piece. However, these paintings are much more satisfying when they are completed and all the effort has been worthwhile.
How has your style evolved and what contributed to the change?
My work is still evolving and I’ve got a long way to go before I feel even close to happy with my "style”. I wasn’t trained so do not feel particularly bound to one way of painting or a school style. I’ve noticed that some artists can get understandably clingy to continuing to paint in the way that they were taught (particularly if they have had it drummed into them that there is a right and wrong way to complete a painting). I’m the opposite as I’m learning all the time & get rather excited seeing how different artists approach their work and I’m keen to try new things. It can also be easy to back your way into a corner as people become familiar with your work , particularly when people who follow you on social media associate you with a style (same with galleries). But I hope my work, and style, continues to develop as I follow my interests even if that means losing a few followers along the way.
Nature versus nurture - do you believe you have inherited abilities from creative parents, do you have creative siblings? Can you identify environmental factors or influences which led to your choices or directions?
Technical skills can be taught or learned by anyone willing to practise, particularly with a bit of input from someone with more experience . But you’ve got to be willing to put in the time. I think that “talent’ is really when people combine their technical skills with their experiences and interests. A few have a bit of magic that resonates with others which seems to be a natural “talent” that has appeared from nowhere. I’m not a big believer in the concept of being born with talent, but there must be a spark that makes some of us want to put in the time to do this (although growing up with a family involved in art must be a huge help).
I didn’t grow up in a creative household, had no paints, no books on art and went to a rather awful school where we were just given powder paints in primary colours with no instruction, but I still loved art. I always loved to draw, was always doodling and scribbling on scraps of paper, envelopes, bills and work books. When I was about 10, I sat down on a Sunday afternoon and saw an old film called “Moulin Rouge” (a cheesy Hollywood style biopic of Toulouse Lautrec.) I hadn’t been to an art gallery and knew little about art but I loved the film and wanted to know more. It started a love of art and became something I did without really sharing it with anyone. One day, years later, I realised that this need to paint wasn’t going away so started to save and eventually took a year off of work to just draw and paint, to see if I could get any better. I felt that it was what I had always wanted to do. After that I just kept going.