MEET THE MEMBER – Rob Ellis
Other art societies you belong to:
Cambridge Drawing Society
What led you to start painting:
At primary school I did art and at home my father – a primary school teacher – realised I had a certain talent for drawing and encouraged me to paint in oils so that, by the time I was 8, I had my painting of the queen hung in my primary school. She was wearing a pearl necklace (unsurprisingly). In secondary (grammar) school, I was too “academic” to do art so had my last art lesson in about 1961. I had my next about 57 years later.
Two or three years ago I was designing, making and failing to sell acoustic guitars (only about 8 in total) in my spare time. I decided I ought to learn to play better and socialise my guitars (and myself) so went to an adult education guitar class in my local Village College – but no one was very interested in me or my guitars. On the way out each week I peered in at a class who were painting watercolours and I decided to try it. To be honest, my painting style bears very little relation to what I learned in those classes but that’s what got me started thinking about what it was I wanted to paint and how I wanted to paint it. I stopped making guitars and started painting watercolours. That was 2017.
What is/was your day job (if not a full time artist)?
I’m a self-employed furniture restorer and french polisher with previous careers in English language teaching and at-home parenting. Having to match wood colours makes me a bit of an expert in different kinds of brown! (No nappy jokes, please).
Do you have a preference for painting style? If so, can you describe it?
I wouldn’t call myself an “artist” in the current sense of the word; I draw in watercolour sometimes even using a pen dipped in paint and I’m rather literally representational, I’m afraid. You especially won’t find many examples of my letting the paint go where it wants, do what it wants and so on. Neither am I conscious of trying to express anything at all “deep” about my subjects. Stylistically, I particularly try to avoid excessive simplification – people with no feet, for example. Thinking about it, I suppose I am interested in representing the play of light on different textures.
If you could give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t study English Literature, (which I did); choose a proper subject: geology, engineering, something like that and do the other stuff in your spare time. Also… become an artist!
My favourite place to paint is (and why):
In front of my computer because that’s where my photos appear.
Is there somewhere on your wish list of places to go and paint?
No. I’ve lived in some interesting countries in my life but I find paintings of exotic destinations a little bit like holiday photos and try to avoid boring people with mine.
Artists who inspire you:
(At the moment) John Singer Sargent, Eric Ravilious, Walter Langley, some PreRaphaelites, Astrig Akseralian, Roland Batchelor
The gallery I would always travel to visit is:
The National Portrait Gallery (but I never do).
Your favourite colour to paint with?
Like most painters, I tend to use more than one. I do, however, hate using the pigments that everyone else uses so my 9 are:
Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Magenta, Cobalt Blue Deep, Cerulean Blue (Red Shade), Viridian (hard to substitute), Perylene Green, Green Gold, Transparent Yellow, Naples Yellow Deep.
Best piece of advice you were ever given about art
None that I can remember. My advice might be: don’t do watercolours; people think they’ll fade and don’t take them seriously.
Best piece of advice you were ever given about anything.
Be iconoclastic: don’t be swayed by people just because they have so-called “status” or an impressive voice; always think for yourself and believe in whatever makes sense to you. (I think my father told me that but it didn’t get either of us very far.) Be irreverent: if something is funny, it is funny no matter how serious the subject matter. (I think Denis from Cork told me that. I wonder where he is now.)