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Interview with Botanical Artist, Alex MacDonald

22nd August 2021

The Kemble Gallery welcomes Alex MacDonald, Botanical Artist based in the North East of England. 

Hello Alex! We’re thrilled to have you exhibiting with the Kemble Gallery. Could you tell us a bit about yourself.

Certainly, I'd be happy to do so. 

I am a visual artist specialising in watercolour painting and mixed media artwork, based in the North East of England. My work is mainly inspired by nature, in particular botanical & figurative painting & illustration. am a member of the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) and the Society of Artists of Botanical Arts (SABA), based in Russia. 

I believe my most important artwork to date is a series of large format watercolour paintings of roses on display at the 'Purely botanical' online exhibition.

Pink Rose Close Up by Alex MacDonald

Do you have a background in art i.e. did you study art earlier in life or are you self taught?

I am self taught.

Do you prefer to call yourself an artist or illustrator?

Artist.

Congratulations on your recent exhibition of work in the SOCHI Art Museum in Russia. You became a member of the Association of the British Botanical Artists and the Society of Artists of Botanical Arts (SABA) in 2020. What inspired you to apply to the Botanical Artist Societies? 

Thank you. The Sochi Art Museum is a great venue. I was inspired by the brilliant Russian botanical artists, who are part of SABA and by the artists from all over the world who form the ABBA membership. I joined ABBA first, then had four artworks accepted, as part of the conditions for joining SABA. There are only two British members. The other is an honorary member.

When we spoke you called yourself an emerging artist. What inspired you to pick up a paintbrush and start painting botanical watercolours?

My story as an artist started from a very young age and I always liked drawing as a child. Then I went on to study A-Level art and BTEC Diploma in General Art & Design. I went in another direction to become a carpenter, after leaving school and then had a career as a health professional before returning to art. Over the past three years I have focused more on art and this has developed much more over the past 18 months.

Ladybird with Wings Opening by Alex MacDonald

You are obviously a multi-talented creative person who enjoys garden design and wood crafting! Tell us how your garden inspires and informs your work.

Thank you!  My garden is the inspiration as are other gardens, outdoor spaces and nature. One privilege of having a garden is that you can grow the subjects. In my case a collection of old roses. This is a great source of inspiration and a good combination for artist and gardener.

Alex MacDonald Artist At Work

The rocking horse you made back in 2013 is incredible. How did you progress from wood crafting to painting? You mentioned that you stopped, was there a reason for this or did you just fall out of love with the craft? The mediums are so different is there anything you learned from wood crafting which informs your botanical illustrations or are they worlds apart?

I made several rocking horses and restored old ones too. This was a self taught pursuit in my spare time. My training and career as a health professional took me in a different direction. As I developed the know how and skills I could go back to wood carving and carpentry one day. I prefer practising as a visual artist at the moment and want to develop my art. Someone once told me that good wood carvings need good drawings and that made great sense!

You like to experiment a lot with your watercolour painting, for example your delicate tea paintings are stunning. What has been the most successful experiment so far?

I haven’t found it yet! I will keep experimenting. Different techniques work for different subjects.

Tea Painting by Alex MacDonald

I admire your creative focus and drive, which I would liken to that of Pablo Picasso. He worked all hours of the night, is this something you like to do? If you don’t mind me saying so, I was surprised at how critical you are of your own work. Is this self-criticism part of that drive and focus to keep pushing yourself forward? 

Yes, definitely keeps me driven. I compete against myself if that makes sense. I don’t tend to work at night, though as I prefer natural lighting conditions.

 

"One of my signature colours is quinacridone pink, I like using transparent yellows, enjoy mixing greens and do like gold."

 

Your watercolour paintings involve a lot of layering, which will mean waiting time for layers to dry, etc. Do you work on more than one painting at once? Could you tell us about your painting process.

I always have several projects on the go at any one time. The process is to develop a concept sketch then a finished drawing. I then transfer the drawing to the support (paper) then begin the painting. The drawings are kept to refer to, as the painting process may involve alterations. I do a lot of research but have lots of ideas and always ensure originality and authenticity in my work.

Ladybird with Wings Opening Close Up by Alex MacDonald

We discussed the vintage feel you like to create within your watercolour pieces. Marianne North’s botanical illustration is emotive and passionate, which comes through in her work, as well as the attention to detail and being an informative piece of illustration. I feel your work is also reminiscent of this, would you agree? 

I am familiar with Marianne North’s work as well as many other artists. However, I really do not compare my work to any other artist. That's for other people to do. Some of my paintings have a vintage feel that is deliberate but others are fresh and contemporary. I try to be versatile and create something different.

 

"I do a lot of research but have lots of ideas and always ensure originality and authenticity in my work."

 

I’ve noticed that your instagram page has a colour scheme of pink, green, orange, yellow & gold. Was this intentional and do you have a particular colour palette you prefer to use?

This wasn't intentional but interesting that you point this out. One of my signature colours is quinacridone pink, I like using transparent yellows, enjoy mixing greens and do like gold.

You talked about all the ideas for paintings you have and that you can’t work fast enough to keep up with them, which I would think is typical of most artists! The floral ballet dancer pieces you have created are delicate and surreal. You have a good eye for figure painting and portray the fluidity, strength and beauty of the ballet dancer within the flower. Edgar Degas is probably most famous for his ballet dancer paintings. Have they been the inspiration behind them?

Ballet dancers and flower forms are the inspiration. The flower dancers are an original concept. I have collaborated with a ballet dancer for one of the pieces and have plans to do a series of larger paintings.

Flower Ballet Dancer by Alex MacDonald

Which artists or creative people inspire you the most? 

Leonardo Da Vinci, Pierre Joseph Redoute, Turner, Rory McEwen, Juliette Aristides, Deborah Lambkin, Svetlana Lanse and many other artists are inspirational.

Could you describe what a typical day in the artist studio is like. Do you have any rituals?

There isn’t such a thing as a typical day, as I fit in art with other things in life.  I often come back to work and work on several projects at a time.  There are no rituals involved just get on with it.  I tend to paint in silence but do enjoy listening to music. 

Do you have any other creative hobbies you do outside of painting besides gardening?

No.

What is your favourite flower to paint?

Roses.

Pink Rose by Alex MacDonald

Any plans for the future?

My intention is to work with galleries and display my work and have a solo exhibition. I may participate in book illustration in the near future. I like taking on new challenges and commissions.

Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions.

Thank you, I enjoyed it.

 

Plans for the future...

Upcoming projects planned for 2021 include involvement in exhibitions in the UK with ABBA, in Russia with SABA, as well as further collaborations with other artists internationally.

 

You can find a selection of Alex's original artworks here... 

 

 

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