Ailsa Black, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Ailsa Black brings together landscapes, birds, animals and people in a humorous and naïve format. Alisa Black describes her work as “an expression of Scottish contemporary rural life”
Zoneone Arts is delighted to bring Ailsa Black to you…
Recently you held a solo exhibition at The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Your work was mounted on ‘RED’ walls. Did you know that the walls would be red before you began?
I had been to visit the gallery so I knew the walls were red. Because it was a Xmas exhibition I thought it would be very festive.
How did the red effect the work you sent for the exhibition?
I just painted using the same palette I normally do. I have overheard people talking about buying a piece of work at my open studio event and trying to decide whether it would match the curtains. I’m not squeamish about these things but I wouldn’t paint anything to match a wall colour just like I wouldn’t choose a painting to match curtain colour. I just paint what feels right at the time!
Your work is small discuss this in relationship to the space?
Yes my work is generally quite small. I trained in Illustration so I’m not used to working on a huge scale. I just carried on working the way I normally do. I think it gave a good variety of work and a depth of subject which you wouldn’t be able to cover if you did fewer but larger pieces of work. Also it makes them more affordable. I think because I had over 70 pieces if filled the space quite well in the end.
Humour plays a huge part in your work discuss?
The humour is something that has just evolved. My paintings always include animals or birds and I think there is a lot of communication going on between them that we as humans are not aware of. I imagine they have conversations like I image I converse with my dog. The communication is there I think it’s just that we don’t always recognise it and animals understand a lot more than often we give them credit for.
Part of the humour in your art is held within the titles, ‘Broon Coo’, ‘The Offering’, Biding Time’, Pep Talk’ discuss the title and these works.
I suppose the titles reflect the capture of a moment in time and an insight into the companionship of the creatures and people in the painting.
Your work is so light hearted can you expand on this?
I grew up in rural Scotland with chickens, ducks, doves, cats, mice, cats, rabbits and so on. Animals have always played a part in my life. The titles come from the conversations I image animals are having with their contemporaries or with us humans. Animals bring so much pleasure to our world...we couldn’t live without them.
Discuss ‘One More Wee One’
Inspiration The lovely Belted Galloway Cow
Size 20cm square
Use of Colour Deep red, paynes grey, white and some brown for the robins.
You use a limited colour palette explain why?
I think if you throw in too many colours to a painting it can look like a big dogs dinner! It gets messy and disjointed. I like my work to have a coherence which the colour helps bring together. I suppose I like to work compositionally to be well balanced and the colour is another facet of that.
Can you discuss the process your work takes, from idea to completion.
I start with a sketch often just something done quickly and roughly. Then I work the sketch up on to a canvas board which has been painted with layers of modelling paste and primed. Then I start to layer the paint up. Often it will take 3 or 4 layers of paint to get the effect I like. Sometimes I put it on in fairly thin washes and quickly wipe it off again before it dries so you can see the lower layers of paint underneath. All my work is then photographed and some of it goes to be made in to greetings cards or prints which are either published by myself or licensed out to publishers.
Discuss your use of a sketchbook?
I don’t do a great deal of sketching from life but I do use sketchbooks for working out ideas and playing with new compositions. They are useful for information gathering but pressure of time means I don’t use them as much as I could.
Discuss the way you decide on what will be original and what will be made in to prints and the edition numbers?
Oh it’s not very scientific…I just pick the ones I like most. Sometimes I can gauge whether something will be popular by the reaction I get on social media which is a useful tool for gathering public opinion!
‘Wee Red Boat’ discuss the composition of this piece?
This piece was based on my daily walks on the beach with my partner and our collie dog. The “Wee Red Boast” helps pull the eye through the picture and adds a touch of detail in the distance.
Your participate in Open Studios, can you give us your thoughts on the pros and cons of being part of Open Studios?
I love our annual open studio event. I am very lucky because I live in a part of the country where there is a formal event which artist are selected for. It is very well organised and I always have a good footfall. I use my local village hall because my studio is really too small. The local community run a café over the weekend and serve soup and home made cake so it becomes quite an event!
Can you take us into your studio? Where is it?
My studio is in the converted attic on the 2nd floor of our very old house. The house was built around 1800 and is a bit cold and draughty but has the most fantastic views facing the sea. I love living in a small coastal village. I know everyone who lives here and we all help each other out when the weather is bad. There is just a row a houses, a bus shelter, a phone box and a pub! The pub is an important hub to meet friends and socialise especially in the winter evenings when it is dark and cold. It’s a 26 mile round trip to the nearest supermarket and you can’t order a take-a-way. There is a mobile post bus which comes to a village about 6miles away so even posting something becomes an outing.
How important is this space to your work?
Well I look down on to a stretch of beach and sea. From the studio I can see otters, porpoises, seals and lots of bird life. It is my inspiration even when the rain is battering off the window!
What you love about your studio?
I love the big windows, the light and the views.
Ailsa Black, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Interview by Deborah Blakeley, January, 2015