Cambridge Open Studios Interviews 2014 - Sue Rapley

Today we meet Sue Rapley in her Barton studio as part of our series of interviews for Cambridge Open Studios, and find out what inspires her vibrant landscapes...

Sue Rapley

Tell us about your practice, and what inspires your work.

I draw inspiration from my love of the natural landscape around me. Every morning I walk my dogs in the fields near to home which gives me that daily opportunity to explore my natural surroundings of the meadows and organic/sustainably farmed land, and this has become a theme in my work. Sometimes I have my sketchbook or take photos.

No day is the same, the light changes, the wind, the seasons... and the landscape changes too as fields are used for different crops or grazing by the herd of cows... constantly changing. I am particularly interested in the Spring and Summer months as new growth occurs. I love to sit amongst the long grasses and wild flowers so my view is at a low angle looking through, and from my visual memory and response to it, I want to capture the essence of being within the landscape in my paintings. Celebrating the vitality and rich colours of nature.

Another dominant theme in my work is the sea and water. From a very early age I spent holidays on the North Norfolk coast, "Swallows and Amazons" style, learning to swim, row and sail, walking over mudflats and marshes and along sandbanks. This coastline and the sea is very ingrained in my memory, but I am also drawn to sea further afield.
I have travelled extensively and seen many beautiful islands and coastlines. More recently my source of inspiration has been the Caribbean, where the light and the colours of the sea are so clear and turquoise. I am constantly painting studies of the sea, trying to capture the colours, reflections, the waves lapping or crashing on the shore. My practice is to create artworks that have energy and movement, capturing the light and reflections of the water, the vibrancy of colour and texture, moving to a more abstracted and simplified image making.
How important is it for you to use sketchbooks?
My sketchbooks are my visual diaries, documenting different places on my travels and at home, note making, composition ideas, visiting museums and gallery exhibitions of other artists. My preferred choice of mark making is with a pen and then with the addition of watercolour. Using a pen means as you draw it cannot be changed.
I have a portable watercolour paint box I can take with me, or I might work on line drawn sketches with colour later in the studio as I develop my ideas working from my memory. From my sketchbook style I have developed a collection of ink and watercolour paintings - Sue's Originals. My sketchbooks also provide the starting point for all work whether for large canvases or smaller artworks.
Sketching has been vital to my practice - observing and really looking at what you are drawing or taking inspiration from. I treasure my sketchbooks and continue to return to them for reference and new ideas.
What is your preferred medium?
I do like to use different media in my practice, but my favourite is oils. Having initially started painting in acrylic paints I quickly found I preferred using oil paints which dry more slowly giving freedom to move the paint on the canvas much more. At first I used brushes to apply but found using palette knives helped to free up my movement over the canvas and this has certainly helped to develop my style of painting. As I have started to work on a larger scale I have found great freedom with gestural movement over the canvas.
I also love to use ink and watercolour - a style that has developed from my sketchbooks using pen and wash in studies and it is from my sketchbook studies that I have developed a collection called Sue's Originals - a collection of vibrant original ink and watercolour paintings mounted to fit either square 10 x !0 inches or landscape 10 x 12 inch frames. Offering original art at an affordable price.

My use of watercolour has also extended to my sea inspired collection of more abstract paintings where I have been experimenting with more mark making and tearing/deconstructing and reconstructing pieces to create movement. The next step with these sea-inspired works is to take them into large scale oil paintings.

Tell us about your formal training.

I originally studied 3-D Design: Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics at Brighton College of Art. It was an amazing course and I learned a lot but I think I just wasn't ready for a career in art when I graduated. I was drawn to a more commercial working life and pursued different avenues including marketing, advertising and magazine publishing. Along the way I dabbled in different creative areas learning new skills in fashion pattern cutting and millinery.

It wasn't until much later, once I had married and started a family that my interest in painting was truly realised and started to develop. A pivotal moment was joining an art class run by artist, Deanna Tyson. She has certainly been a great mentor as I have developed my own practice, and I owe so much to Deanna for her wonderful tuition and enthusiasm. Both she and another COS artist Karen Stamper have also been a strong influence with using sketchbooks and methods for developing ideas and studies into compositions for finished pieces.

Being an artist can be a very solitary occupation, are you a member of any artists groups or societies?

As an artist I need to work alone but I also love to interact with other artists. When I first started painting I joined Cambridge Open Studios in 2006 and I have been exhibiting for Cambridge Open Studios since 2007. Being part of this organisation has been a great support and inspiration for me.

From June 2009 to June 2012 I became a member of the Cambridge Arts Movement based at Williams Art gallery in Gwydir Street. This is an artist's collective and as a group we could show our work and also devised a programme of themed exhibitions and supported the gallery through subscription and stewarding the exhibitions. As an artists collective I was involved in many different aspects of running this movement - one of these was to review and interview prospective new applicants to the group. This was a pivotol period in my artistic development - I met and got to know the group members and made good connections and discovered many new avenues and ideas, and this is how I met Karen and Mandy of the Cambridge Creative Network.
Another platform for reaching out to other creative people has been through social media. Joining Twitter, Facebook and Linkedln has certainly "opened the door" to a whole new world of artists and creatives both local and worldwide. This has been a wonderful research tool for me discovering what other artists are talking about and to engage in these conversations. Social media is a great place to exchange ideas with like-minded people as much as connect with potential customers. The use of this platform has really helped to build my business and my name as an artist and to be part of a community where we support each other in our endeavours, successes and failures.

When we visited your studio space, you said that plans are afoot to make a different space to work in. What is on your wish list for your new space?

I love my home studio, but I have started to feel I am out growing the space which is currently within the house, but plans are afoot to build a new larger studio in our garden. I am really excited about this opportunity to have a dedicated space to work in. On my wish list will be a workspace with really good light, a practical floor surface that gives me freedom to get messy with paint, more space so that I can work on much larger canvases and to store work, but particularly to be away from the distractions of being within the family and domestic home. We are starting to draw up plans and hope to start this project into 2015, so watch this space!

In your lifetime you have worked in different fields, including marketing, advertising and recruitment. How do you feel these have impacted on you as an artist?

As I have developed my art and business as a self-employed artist, I have found that my previous career experience in sales, marketing and recruitment has become really useful. It is important for me as an artist not just to create work, but to engage with an audience and promote Sue Rapley Art in a variety of ways.
Do you welcome commissions?
I really enjoy working on commissioned pieces. Being a social person I love the interaction with the customer and working on a project just for them. Every project has different challenges and there is always a little sprinkling of uncertainty that what I produce the customer will be pleased with. So far so good - I think as the artist we are always more critical of what we produce.
My latest commission is a large oil painting on a 80 x 120 cm canvas based on another painting my customers had seen on show recently in Cambridge. The painting is now complete and having time for the painted surface to fully dry. I am really pleased with how it has turned out and I am sure my customer will love it too!
What dates are you doing for Open Studios?
I will be exhibiting at The Old School Studio, Whittlesford with fellow artist, Val Pettifer, on weekends 3 & 4, 19th-20th and 26th-27th July, opening with our preview evening on Friday 18th July 6 - 9pm. Come along and join us for a glass of Pimms.
I will be showing my new collection of vibrant original paintings and handmade cards. Land and seascape images in a variety of media, exploring movement, light and reflections.

Welcome to the Cambridge Creative Network where we invite creative professionals to promote their work through our gallery, find events and opportunities and network with other like-minded people in Cambridge. Want to join us? Apply here...

About Mandy Knapp