Artist in Focus: Podi Lawrence
Why did you become an artist?
It was something I wanted to do from the moment I could hold a pencil. I can remember going to the theatre with my parents, I must have been 8 or 9. There was an artist who did very large paintings on stage (sorry haven’t a clue what her name was), and I decided I wanted to be be an ‘artist’. My Dad taught me about perspective. I was always happy when its rained in the school holidays as I could paint away all day. I attended the Harrow School of Art and gained a place at the Royal College of Art for fashion design, but didn’t take it up! (a lifelong regret). Then, of course, I married which brought pressure to earn money and took me away from that dream. When my children were born I started to get back to what I loved to do and decided then that I wanted to do it for ever.
How did you start out in your career?
I have been an artist all my life, and professionally since 1985. I suppose it really evolved. I spent the first few years of my children’s life studying books, going to galleries and taking classes with admired artists such as Ken Paine (portraits), Tom Coates, and Moira Huntley. This gave me direction of where I wanted to take my work. I started to get accepted at the Mall Gallery Open shows and commissions and enjoyed the camaraderie and inspiration of local artists as a member, and later Chair, of the Buckinghamshire Art Society. I took a course in Teaching Adults in 1988 and taught some wonderful people over the years since. Early in the 90’s I was accepted for the Salon de Paris and (incredibly) won a Bronze Medal. I exhibited with them for a further 3 exhibitions (held bi-annually twice in publications only). A new theatre opened in my local town High Wycombe and I was asked to paint a picture of the Opening event. The English National Ballet were performing later that year and I asked if I could sit in the auditorium to sketch (ala Degas!). Not only was I granted permission but I was awarded a residency with the Company when I produced paintings and drawings for them. This was another evolving moment as I went on to work with several orchestras, musicians and dancers and eventually was resident artist for the Waterloo Jazz Festival, in Ontario, where I also worked for several other groups, and met and painted some of the worlds best musicians.
Can you describe a typical working day for you?
After taking the dogs for a walk & then breakfast, I spend an hour or so catching up on the internet (such is life now). The rest of the day is spent painting, thinking through something from an inspired moment, starting new work or finishing off. I tend to work on 2 or three pieces at a time. I have a studio at home and at the Heights Hotel on Portland, where I am currently artist in residence, so spend 3-4 days a week there. And of course there is all that time one has to spend on seeking new work, promotion, and accounting, and preparing for exhibitions.
What do you want the viewer to experience?
How do you go about making a painting?
I work in many different mediums and each subject seems to demand which one I should use. But once I am inspired by a person, a view or just the way the light falls i.e., the sparkle in the sea, the movement of clouds. Not every piece of inspiration gets painted. I take photos of these moments in time and hope later I will use them. 9 times out of ten I don’t. But when I do the photo will help me recall the feeling of the situation but I don’t necessarily paint it direct from the photo. Its a means to an end. I always start by sketching out ideas to sort composition and tonal values, positioning of the horizon etc. At that point I decide what medium to use. If it is oils I prepare a canvas with an all over wash of under-paint in burnt sienna or it may dictate a darker tone, then left to dry for half a day. The design is then drawn on using a brush & paint which is left for a day to dry, and then layers of paint are applied. Some paintings work immediately and I’m finished in a day, others can take me several weeks.
Commissioned portraits demand a slightly different approach. There is a lot of ‘study’ time. Decisions have to be made about size, clothing, lighting, background. I sketch and take photographs whilst chatting to the sitter to help them relax and sometimes have music playing. I can then spend time on my own preparing the canvas, sketching it in before another sitting and final painting. Having said all that, I like to paint a portrait from life in a couple of hours. I quite like doing that – it becomes a fresh lively painting (most times).
What are some of your favourite experiences as an artist?
Over 35 year career quite a few to choose from.
Getting accepted at the Salon de Paris in 1994
Being awarded a bronze medal there.
Being chosen by Prince Charles for the Discerning Eye Exhibition in 1997.
Being commissioned to paint the retiring Dean of Kings College London.
Residency with the English National Ballet – that was one of the best experiences.
Residency with the UpTown Waterloo Jazz Festival in Ontario Canada (got to work with some wonderful musicians listen to fantastic music).
I’ve also been fortunate to have visited some very exotic locations. Whilst in the tropics I was inspired by the colour and patterns of shadows and have completed 16 larger paintings…so far.
What part of the working process do you enjoy most?
All of it. Especially the playing with paint bit.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
After presenting the commissioned portrait of Sir Ian Gainsford to the Governing Board of Directors at Kings, I received a substantial bonus! The funniest was – I was doing instant portraits for a fund raising event when a lady with rather numerous chins sat down and said – could I draw her with less chins – to which I replied yes but it would cost a few thousand for surgery! Fortunately she understood my humour.
What is the question you encounter most when you tell someone you are an artist?
Did you go to art school?