Her work described by Informed Collector in 2014 as bearing a “hidden mystery
that lies deep within,” Edinburgh-based artist Stephanie Rew is renowned for her captivating range of works. As the latest artist to be featured in our Contemporary Charcoals interview series, Rew generously shared some insights into her working process as well as the integral role that charcoal plays within it. For more on Rew’s work, please visit her website: www.stephanierew.co.uk.
NC: How do you set up your studio? What are three items you need
in your studio to get started?
SR: Good music, a strong cup of coffee and a lot of paint.
NC: What do you hope your works communicate to the viewer?
SR: I hope to achieve the viewer’s emotional response. I try to keep away from any strong narrative in my work, as I want the viewer to able to project their own memories and stories onto my works. The subjects in my paintings are a universal symbol of womanhood. . . . I want to convey a powerful but also peaceful image of women.
NC: What drew you to working in charcoal? What advantages do you think it has over other media?
SR: Charcoal gives a beautiful mark and is so versatile. I love how you can lift off areas so easily with the heel of your hand or a putty eraser, leaving the ground/paper exposed. I couldn’t work without it. In the last few years I have concentrated much more on my drawing skills. I will take up to 40 hours on a charcoal and pastel pencil drawing. The drawing stage determines how I will approach the painting. Completing a highly detailed portrait in charcoal is vital before a colour work.
NC: The artist has to choose when a work is “done”. How do you know when
a work is complete? How do you know when to stop “editing”?
SR: That is one of the hardest things to learn. I still have a tendency to over work something. I will stop, however, when I see the first energy filled brush strokes start to disappear or the fresh colours of the alla prima stage beginning dull with over-glazing. Knowing when to let a painting just be what it is, is a skill in itself.
SR: I was told to work everyday and treat it like a 9-5 job. Draw something or painting something – just do it every day if you can. I worked on my art everyday even when I was working in an office or in the pharmacy to make ends meet. It is the hours you put into your art that produces a great painter – talent alone is not enough. Be determined and develop a thick skin, as rejection is a constant no matter how good you are.
NC: What is your most unusual quirk or ritual when working on your art?
SR: I think I have a few strange habits. . . . I like to listen to loud music (preferably rock) when starting a painting; it makes me paint faster! The radio is fine for the middle stages, and finally classical music for the detailed bits at the end. I have been known to stop painting to dance a little – but I am sure we all do that. I also have noticed recently that I forget to blink when I am working on a particularly complex area, which can be a bit painful at times! Also, I am left handed but sometimes when I am starting the rough block-in stage of a larger work I will use both hands at the same time.
NC: What’s the first piece of art you’ve ever created? What did you learn from it?
SR: I honestly can’t think of a first creation. I have been drawing and painting for as long as I remember – first on my mum’s walls when I was 3, she gave me rolls of wallpaper to draw on eventually to stop the mess! I have never really stopped since.
NC: Can you tell us more about one of your favorite creations? Where did you create it? Does it have a story attached?
SR: The painting Recline in Green Uchikake is a painting I am very proud of. It was a commission, which usually can be a little bit limiting for an artist, but the client was a very inspiring person who thought big and gave me free reign on the subject. All he insisted on was the size, which was massive. At over 6 feet in length it was much bigger than anything I had done before. Scaling up a figure to nearly life-size throws up a lot of challenges so I learned a lot while painting it. The kimono was a very detailed silk wedding Uchikake, which was a joy to paint. I wish I could paint this big all the time.
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Alexis Culotta holds a PhD in Art History and lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.