September already and autumn seems just around the corner; it’s just that little bit ‘fresher’, on some days certainly. However while the best of the Summer may be behind us, I have another Conversation to share with you today. I’m turning to another former colleague at Dundee College, Angus McEwan, who still teaches in the Fine Art department of Dundee & Angus FE College and who over many years has won awards and prizes for his exquisite paintings, most recently in July 2019 when he was awarded the prize by the Bold Brush jury for Outstanding Watercolour, a painting entitled Beating Heart of China. However, this is just the latest in a long list of prizes. Angus teaches and exhibits all over the world and will be part of the International Watercolour Exhibition in Sofia, Bulgaria which opens on 11th September. Back in 2007 Angus won 2nd place in The Sunday Times Watercolour Competition and the International Prize “Marche d’Acqua” Fabriano, Italy in 2012. The list of his competition success is long but so is the list of galleries all over the world that have exhibited his work. Angus is always busy so I was delighted that he was able to find some time to speak to me and I started, as I have with other former Dundee art college students, by talking to him about his time at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. Angus, we are both graduates of DoJCAD. What are your memories of your time at art college and do you feel the teaching and your time there has had a lasting influence on your artistic practice?
- I really enjoyed my experience at Duncan Of Jordanstone, I did a 4-year painting degree (printmaking as a secondary subject) and a further Post Graduate Degree, as a master’s in fine art wasn’t up and running at that point. I found working in a studio with other people really drove me forward and challenged me as a creative practioner. The lecturers certainly made you question and justify every move you made. It went beyond the practical aspects of learning how to paint and into a more cerebral approach. It wasn’t enough to be able to use your materials or master your craft. Were you intellectually rigorous in your approach to your work? The experience taught me to stand on my own two feet, if I had a problem, I would seek answers in the library rather than relying on a tutor. This allowed me to move from the security of the college environment into the cut and thrust of the real world fairly smoothly, this was probably the greatest lesson I learnt at Art school. That and being true to myself which was the first thing that Peter Collins ever said to us in first year.
It is always interesting to hear about the working spaces and practices of artists so can you describe your studio? Do you like to work listening to music or an audiobook or do you prefer silence?
- I very rarely have silence in my studio. I always have music on and what type depends on my disposition at the time. If I need nonverbal calm pieces, then I will listen to ambient music but If I’m charged with energy then I will play rock music to go along with my mood. I also listen to audiobooks or play you tube videos I can listen to. It all really depends on whether I need to concentrate on the work or whether I am working on an area that I don’t need to be mentally present with (working from the subconscious)
You are all over the world teaching workshops and of course you are a tutor at Dundee & Angus FE College, but how important is teaching to your practice?
- Teaching certainly helps with the development of your work. You need to understand the process of a technique thoroughly before you can pass on that knowledge to others. I found that my drawing sped up considerably and changed into a less rigid style when I began to teach life drawing as I couldn’t spend 45 mins getting everything correct while the students were patiently waiting for me. The drawing must be down within a few minutes so you can go on to teach the next part of the process or technique. Teaching also allows me to teach methods and use materials that aren’t necessarily part of my own practise. This stops me from becoming too reliant on one technique or style, as I can shift from being very painterly and loose to very tight and detailed pretty easily.
Texture and colour are the main inspiration for your paintings. What are the challenges about painting distressed surfaces and what is it that attracts you to them? Is it just that, it is the challenge?
- I really enjoy painting the surface of objects and the method and materials I use lend themselves to my subjects. Having said that I don’t just look for surface textures to paint, its just that this is what I find interesting most of the time. I can often paint subjects that aren’t textured but I like to use a variety of different marks when I’m working and look to implement that whenever I record a subject. Sometimes that might mean a dotted or textured sky which I personally don’t mind. The main challenge in producing a very rough textured surface is the length of time it may take. Unfortunately, it isn’t something that happens quickly in fact, I’m finding myself taking longer and longer to do my work which I need to really watch out for.
How important do you think it is to have a regular if not daily drawing habit?
- When I first came out of college it was extremely important to me to be working every day, especially when I was working in another job that wasn’t connected to producing art. Now I don’t find that it impacts my abilities much if I go a week or so without drawing or painting, but my wife will tell you I get grumpy if I can’t do something. This usually means taking a sketchbook and some paints with me when I go on holiday so I can spend a little time each day doing something that makes me feel productive. It’s an itch that needs scratched.
You are a prolific painter; do you collect your visual information in a sketchbook or do you produce small preparatory paintings en plein air?
- I use sketchbooks mostly, do some plein air work if time permits and take photographs (to back up the plein air work) if I have a limited amount of time around a subject. It really all comes down to time and usually I don’t have a huge amount of that. I take a long time to do my detailed paintings so my plein air work tends to be a simplification of the idea. It also tends to be a lot looser and I call this my guerrilla painting technique. Its messy but effective and it allows me to mentally recall the feeling of being in front of my subject. Somehow this is better than just using photographic imagery alone, but sometimes that is all I have.
I know drawing underpins all your work but when you go out to collect information, what kit do you take with you and are there personal favourites?
- If I’m out on a serious painting trip then a Sketchbook, watercolour paper, brushes, metal palette of various sizes, Neocolour II water based wax crayons, Graphite pencils up to 10b, box easel or tripod and PLEINAIR easel system & palette, water, water container, foldable water holder are my standard “kit”. If I’m just out to work in a sketchbook alone then, Neocolours, small metal palette, DaVinci or Escoda travel brushes, water, Pencils (dark), water container and holder. Horses for courses as they say. I know I take far too much with me, but I hate not having the right equipment to work with.
What plans do you have for the coming months?
- Over the next few months; In August I will be judging the ABU RAWASH 2019- 3rd International watercolour contest. I have a painting in Xian taking part in the 2019 The Sixth Silk Road International Festival & Art Exhibition- September. I am showing 2 paintings in the Nuance Art Gallery, Sofia Bulgaria in a show-“ International Watercolour Exhibition”- 11th September to 1st October. Then 6th– 27th October I will be exhibiting more than 15 paintings with Jenny Matthews in a two person show in the Smithy Gallery, Blanefield, Glasgow. I have 5 works going to Shanghai to participate in the Universal Watercolour Maestro Biennale 2019 in October. I am also teaching watercolour and textures in Moscow on October 12th & 13th.
Thank you very much Angus. I’ve always admired your work and it has been really good to hear about your motivation and practice. If you would like to see more of Angus’ paintings and information about his teaching and forthcoming exhibitions, explore his website at this link here. He is also on Instagram and Facebook. As I look out the studio window the skies are a little grey, oops it’s raining now, so have a look at the glowing colours of Angus’ paintings and