In Conversation with Lucy Carruthers

LC: Where are you based – where’s your studio?
KQM: I’ve had studios in various places, California, Italy, and Dorset in England. I am currently based in London and I have a studio in Chelsea (which I use mainly for portraits), but I travel a lot on extended commissions. I spend as much time I can in the field – whether it’s getting battered by rain on the Isle of Skye or hot and dusty in the jungles of Nepal.

LC: What is your art background and where did you train?
KQM: I’ve painted all my life (visual mediums came more naturally to me than written ones) and have been selling my work commercially since I was 17. I’ve had a slightly roundabout route to becoming the artist I am today, though.

After studying Science at University I was attracted by the bright lights of the Theatre and won a scholarship to the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. I spent several successful years working as an actress and singer on London’s West End and on Broadway. When I was not on stage, however, I spent all my spare time painting. I gradually came to realize that painting was my passion, my vocation, and that it fitted well with my somewhat intense and solitary nature. I think that to be a good painter you can’t just have talent, you also have to be good at being on your own.

My early work was strongly influenced by contemporary and post-impressionist painters. When I made the switch and decided to focus entirely on painting as a career, I wanted to hone my natural talent and facility by training in the rigorous techniques of the Old Masters. I went to live in Florence and spent several years working in the ateliers of master painters there. I immersed myself in materials, human anatomy, and the sight-size technique, which was used by many of the finest oil painters from the seventeenth century onwards, including Reynolds, Lawrence and Sargent. That training informs my work and has heightened my sensitivity as to how I see nature.

LC: How do you work: from photos, sketches, etc?
KQM: I try to work from life as much as possible. To me there is no other way to connect with a subject than to see it in the flesh and work with it in situ. I paint portraits entirely from life in my studio. Wild animals are, however, a little more challenging as it’s always hard to capture a moving image. Artists have many techniques personal to them to address this difficulty.

I tend to build up images like a jigsaw puzzle, from my understanding of an animal’s anatomy, multiple sketches and photographs.
Sometimes I can’t do the complete work en plein air , but finish it back in my studio where I can control the environment. Humidity, dirt and dust can play havoc with your materials especially paper. Sometimes it’s also just too stressful trying to get charcoal works on paper back to the UK without smudging or damaging them.

LC: What mediums do you work in and why do you choose them?
KQM: I can be very boring about this and drone on for hours but in short - oil is a marvellous medium. It has a fantastic range and can either be used either thick like butter or as a thin glaze. When used thickly the texture and mark making is important. When used thinly by painting thin layers on top of one another, one can create rich colours where the light glows off the different layers. I think oil is the medium that can most closely depict nature. I also use charcoal extensively because it is another mass medium – in that although it’s in a stick you can use it to build up mass and working with it is, therefore, quite similar to using oils. I also like the way that they are both earth mediums – both come directly from organic material with no synthetic additives. As I choose to paint organic subjects I think that organic materials lend a certain naturalness to the work.

LC: What motivates and inspires you?
KQM: I am passionate about nature conservation. As a painter I am fascinated by how humans interact with the planet and their environment. Being able to use my art to spread awareness and understanding is immensely rewarding. It’s a way of giving something back to the wonderful creatures and landscapes that give me the inspiration I need to create my work. I would be so proud if my work helped even marginally to stimulate and fuel the debate on conservation: to heighten humanity’s respect for the planet we are dependent on and for the other creatures we share it with.