In this edition of UnderCover, we chat with artist Penny Silverthorne about her portfolio and the cover image of Di Brandt's The Sweetest Dance on Earth.
1. Can you please tell us about yourself and your work as an artist?
I have always painted. Whilst still at school, I remember going to a nearby park to draw the trees. I went from school to art college and took a course in Interior design which was a very drawing-based course, and this is where my love of watercolour started. I started painting buildings but after finishing my course and having had children, it was easier to bring flowers into the house and so my love of flowers grew. I was by this time living in Devon, a beautiful part of the UK with the sea, moors, and plenty of floral inspiration around.
2. Your portfolio shows a clear affinity for flowers and floral arrangements; what is it about this subject matter that inspires you?
I love to grow flowers and paint them. Sometimes as they are growing in the garden, and other times I pick them to bring them inside and paint in comfort. I like the wild natural look (i.e., a bunch of wildflowers stuck into a jam jar.)
3. Please tell us about “Hyacinths and Crocus,” the piece that appears on the cover of Di Brandt’s The Sweetest Dance on Earth. How did this particular piece come into being?
The “Hyacinths and Crocus” painting came about because I had been asked by a publisher to paint the pictures for a calendar featuring different flowers for every month. In the early spring, there are not many flowers blooming [in the UK], so choice was limited. I was drawn to the shapes and colours of these flowers, which were growing in a pot, and so were easy to bring inside. I usually use a textured Bockingford watercolour paper and artists watercolour paints. I love the marks watercolours make, so I let them take over, building layers and allowing drying time in between, trying not to overdo it, which can end in a muddy picture. I think watercolours lend themselves to floral studies because they are naturally translucent, and the beauty of the flowers comes through.
4. What are some of the joys of working with a watercolour medium? What are the challenges?
The challenge of working with watercolours is that it is hard to correct mistakes and sometimes easier to start again. I always like to start with a real flower in front of me, so that also can be a problem when most flowers are only available for a short season over the spring and summer.
5. What were some of the valuable lessons you learned in the early days of establishing yourself in the artistic world?
I take a lot of inspiration from looking at other people’s work, but I try to be true to myself and my own interpretation.
6. You’ve built a successful stationery and gift business that uses your artwork for its designs. Does this business model have any impact on how you work, and your creative process? (i.e., what comes first, the painting, or a conscious decision about the design it will eventually become?
Most of my paintings have been thought of first as a greeting card design but I have recently been trying to paint more as a picture which involves more composition and depth.
7. Do you undertake commissions? If so, how do commissions affect how you work?
I do undertake commissions, but I am always slightly worried that the purchaser will not have the same vision in their mind.
8. Is there a certain time of day during which you work best?
I work best early in the morning. I am always eager to get out of bed and get on with the current project. The sight of a blank piece of watercolour paper with some beautiful flowers next to it is very inspiring. I like to work in natural light so it can be hard in the short winter days.
9. How do you continue to challenge yourself and push the creative limits of your art? What are you currently working on?
There is always so much room for self-improvement. I have been working on a range of paintings featuring honesty which has a beautiful translucent look to it. I have been using a very restricted colour palette and introducing just a small amount of colour which is then reflected in the honesty seedheads. Working with dried flowers and seedheads also works well in the winter when choices of flowers are limited, and I have harvested mine from my own garden.
Celebrated for her floral watercolours, artist Penny Silverthorne has built up a range of stationery and prints. The company Silverthorne Designs was established in 1987 and has thrived in the years since, and grown from a cottage industry to a booming business, exporting art and gift stationery worldwide. Visit her online at https://www.silverthorne.co.uk/default.asp