ARTIST INTERVIEW- Melanie Russell
Could you introduce yourself and your practice?
I’m Melanie Russell, I live in SW London and have a studio in Croydon. I mostly paint and draw these days but have worked with collage, fabric and 3D cardboard pieces in the past. I have always been interested in shape, line and colour and investigating positive and negative space. Drawing is at the centre of my practice.
I love your painting ‘Through the Spinney’, could you talk a bit about how this work came about?
I usually work on more than one painting at a time and ‘Through the Spinney’ was made alongside other smaller paintings inspired by drawings of ivy from sketchbooks. The drawings are observational and the more familiar I get with the subject, they become simplified and abstracted. I use these drawings as reference points but I don’t plan out the painting.
I start by putting down some areas of colour, taking shapes of the leaf motifs from my sketchbook as a guide, and then draw into the wet paint. I let these first decisions dry and the next day I react and add more to the composition. There’s a lot of standing back and looking and going back in, painting out areas, adding shapes and line and building up layers. I paint small areas at a time so I can work wet into wet, I love the softer, dragged line achieved with this technique.
I have a fairly short studio day as I have children and a school run to work around so I have come up with this way of working that fits into my routine and is satisfying, playful and experimental in its approach. The layering and looking through in ‘Through the Spinney’ mimics the way I see clumps of woodland I walk through on the school run and the vines of ivy with winter berries would have been taken from this walk.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
I use various brands of oil but always use Winsdor & Newton Liquin. My favourite watercolours are Kuretake, I have a couple of sets and love the large pans and range of colours, they are quite opaque. I use a range of drawing materials, soft pastels, pencil crayons and graphite sticks. I have these really chunky pencil crayons, Stabilo Woody 3 in 1, the colours are so intense and have a lush waxy texture, I’m using them a lot lately.
Your paintings are full of energy, can you expand a little on the sense of movement within your work?
I think this movement comes from the way I draw. I love line drawing, I have recently been running workshops and telling the participants to look as much as they draw. For me this encourages flow and the movement is really physical so I’m moving my hand as my eyes move down say the side of a plant. When I start drawing from natural forms I usually make multiple drawings. I don’t really correct anything I just make another and the lines becomes more confident and less information is needed. I use these drawings in the paintings so I think the energy and excitement is conveyed. Last year I started drawing/painting into wet paint and this changed the way the line looked and felt, this gives it energy too.
What is your workspace like, do you have any studio essentials?
I have a smallish studio with one wall completely glazed looking out to an atrium, I work directly on the walls whilst painting and usually work at a table to draw. I have two trolleys which are essential for a smaller space and my table is an old drop leaf dinning table so adjustable too. Headphones are pretty vital too, I feel a bit lost if they’re not charged or I’ve left them at home, I listen to a lot of podcasts.
Lastly, Who are some of your favourite contemporary artists at the moment?
Ohhhh lots, just thinking whose work on Insta I always like… Maria Lundstrom, Louisa Chambers, Shara Hughes, Tal R, Katie Trick, Kevin Umana, Maya Stefania Wibling, Ellen Siebers.