Meet the Artist
Peter French Strathmore AFAS prize 2014
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
Peter French is a member of the Armed Forces Art Society (AFAS) and won the Strathmore Artist Papers prize which we sponsored in 2014. His work is soft and ethereal. The piece which won was an atmospheric watercolour of Bermondsey Wall.
I started work as a cartographic draughtsman, very strict and disciplined tactile work. Computers came along and made me redundant, I then went into graphics and in 1994 decided to become a full time artist.
What inspires you? How do you come across the "stories"? I find your work has an ethereal, spritual quality, where does this arise from do you think?
Studying artists such as Turner, Whistler and local boy Edward Seago amongst others. I prefer to paint subjects that are not the usual tourist attractions. Watercolour is an excellent medium for suggesting evanescent and mysterious scenes, just let the water do the job.
How would you describe a typical project? Do you work from photographs, do prelim sketches, etc, or go straight to canvas?
I use photos and also sketches, quick 'plein air' roughs to get the feel of the subject. It's no good going to the final painting though if you haven't a vision of the finish in your head. Add this to the 'accidents' you get with watercolour and that completes the scene. Don't overdo it though.
Work at the moment is getting paintings done for three upcoming exhibitions, two in Holt, Norfolk (October & November) and another in Salisbury (November).
You are a member of the AFAS, what does that mean for you? Has membership helped you in any way (inspiration, awards, discussion, etc). Are you a member of any thing else?
I'm also an associate member of the 'United Society of Artists' and the 'Army Arts Society'. AFAS also exhibits high quality work in major galleries. It definitely makes a difference to your inspiration if you know your work will be appreciated and sold for a decent price.
Your watercolours seem to be painted quite loose but are detailed. I love the atmosphere in them. Can you tell us a little about how you go about setting up the paper layout? Do you paint en plein air or from photos?
The detail comes from my draughting skills. Years of practice and some 'unlearning' has allowed me to paint loosely but with necessary detail incorporated. Atmosphere is what it is all about. Painting wholly realist scenes is very difficult with watercolour, often looks dull and is also time consuming.
Paper layout - Drawing the details is important to get the outlines which then allows you to paint more freely, the subject is already there and as I've said before, use the water to paint for you. Start with the sky and let the paint run down the paper.
From your paintings I get the feeling that you have an affinity, almost an understanding of the places you paint. There's a harmony in each painting. The light, the shadows. Why did you chose the spots you did? What makes a subject jump out at you? Why those three locations in particular?
Old time soaked buildings and rural scenes with rampant foliage, then again misty scenes of town or country allow some spiritual release. It's spending years watching and noticing things. Light and shadow - it's all a question of distance perspective and what 'looks right'. You know immediately when an aesthetic scene appears and I certainly do re / arrange the subject matter to suggest the paintings purpose.
The specific subjects, that does to some extent depend on where the next exhibition is to be held eg London scenes for London exhibitions, but it's a good idea to put in the odd rural scene for anyone who wants to escape to the countryside, also to show my versatility.
A challenging question… It must be difficult to choose one piece you have created, but If your studio burnt down which of your works would you rescue and why?
Yes a difficult one. There have been pictures which I have been sorry to see sold. I've still got St. Saviours Dock (still available) and a very recent painting of atmospheric deepest Norfolk, 'The Great Moss Fen and Waxham Church'. This is painted on the STRATHMORE Rough paper and is a view out the back of mine here in deepest Norfolk.
And finally, a bit of fun, if you were a Strathmore paper which would you be, and why?!
Definitely 'Rough' paper. It may seem contradictory but you can get smoother washes and vignettes the rougher the paper. I'm very busy at the moment. These three exhibitions are coming up, Holt in October and another November there and then Salisbury in November.
To look at more of Peter's work, have a look on his website: http://www.ptfrench.co.uk/
For more details on the AFAS click here http://www.afas.org.uk/