Q & A
‘Someone looked at a work of mine and said ‘That is just like real life But! Better!’. That’s exactly what I want people to think, and to have someone say so spontaneously was a joy.’
Diana is a young artist in Cambridge, who is continually surprised that people will pay her to do what she loves. She likes beer and being paid on time. She has illustrated two books and a lot of bits of paper. She wants to paint portraits, takes commissions, and drinks tea like it is water.
Diana, Pick at least 20 From the following:
Answer in one -two sentences
Gosh, a tricky one. I prefer dead people so I do not have to compete with them. I think I most admire Howard Tayler, creator, writer, and main artist of Schlock Mercenary. His life is centred around his professionalism; he has an unbroken run of twelve years of daily posts. That makes me want to work more. His art is not what I would draw or paint (although I have one of his hand drawn character sketches) so if I have to think of a living artist whose work inspires me? No, it’s Howard Tayler. @HowardTayler on twitter.
2. What is your first creative memory?
Drawing a person with proper shoulders in primary school and comparing it to the stick figures. Really bad shoulders, I should add, but I was always trying for realism. Nobody seemed to think it was all that special, though.
3. Which one of your paintings are you most happy with to-date, and why?
My self portrait. It has twenty one days of work in it. I want to make pieces as skillfully as possible, and the work I put in on that one makes it better than any other I have done. The biggish version is at http://dianaprobst.com/2011/07/17/self-portrait-in-oils-day-21/img_1632 .
4. If you could be any other artist who would you be and why?
Why would I want to be anyone else? There are seven billion people on this world. I am one of them. Go away, read Grey’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ and then think about the question. But if you insist, someone well off and happy.
5. What single thing would improve the quality of your artistic life?
6. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given about being an artist?
It was the best bit of advice I have been given to date. “Pull yourself together.” It encompasses all the other bits. But ‘work when you do not feel like it’ and ‘do that again, it’s not good enough’ are pretty close. If I had to narrow it down, then it is to sit down and damned well work even though the thought of putting a mark on paper makes you sick. Even when you dread it and self-doubt is strangling your love of what you do, do it. That feeling passes.
7. What does it feel like when you’re painting?
Cold. My bladder is often full. My studio is unheated, and I drink a lot of tea. A lot of people have tried to draw out some notion that it is a very spiritual thing. I have no idea what they are talking about. I can be satisfied with my work, but most of it is calculation. If I am mentally masturbating over how lovely it is to be arting, I am not doing the job of making /this work/ as good as it could be. I’m failing if I rub my feelings all over the canvas.
8. What do you think art is?
Hrrm. I know what /fine/ art is. It’s what I do. I produce things where the only value is in their beauty. I do not seek to make you question anything other than what an item might mean in context, or how I managed an effect. In a wider definition, art alters your emotions, in a direction planned by the artist but along a route you take yourself. You might totally ignore her direction, in fact.
9. What would you do if you weren’t a painter?
Hmm. Another toughie. I think I would have learned some computer language or another and be trying to make a living at that. I like puzzles, and things that do exactly what you tell them to do, but with interesting combinations. I could be fooling myself, though. I might be on the dole telling people I could have been a contender. I might be an astronaut.
10. Which other art form do you admire and why?
Poetry. It is a compression algorithm for emotion. You can tell people how a feeling is, in a way they understand. ‘Love holds me captive again, and I tremble with bitter-sweet longing’. That’s Sappho, who was very good at writing down feelings. I admire poets who can stir a feeling in me. It’s a real skill.
11. What has been your biggest artistic disappointment?
Another tough one. I have failures, but I do not think any of them stand up. Ask me again the first time I let down a client. That will be a big one. Until then, I just have things I have learned from.
12. Where do you work?
The Cambridge Art Salon, which is in Romsey, next to Mill Road. For non-locals, that means the food is good. We are off the main road, though, so the gallery part has little passing trade. There is a stein of studios at the back. The building used to be a motorcycle shop. I work in the MOT bay.
13. Do you work from life, from photos or from your imagination?
Yes, yes, and yes but with help. I can do all three, and all three are different. When working on a particular effect from imagination, I can go furthest wrong, but I like to keep trying.
14. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Grrr. This question always annoys me. Inspiration is not the important part. The important part is that after having an idea an artist puts in a brickton of work. So if I decide to do (heavens help me) another still life in glass, I will set it up and draw it and tweak it. I have far more ideas than I ever have finished works. Everyone has ideas. Whiskey costs money. So here is something far more useful. How do I /filter/ ideas? I look at whether I can do it. I look at whether it is likely to sell. I look at whether I have all the right tools. I sketch it a bit. If I still have enthusiasm and can see it working, I put it into the easel or the painting table. Ffeh, inspiration!
15. What moves you in life, what irks you?
Big question. People treating each other badly irks me. I admire a calm understatement more than a scream of joy. I like good food, being warm enough, and remembering how bloody lucky I am.
16. Where do you feel art is going?
I have no idea. I am out of touch with most modern art, and that is the sort of art that goes. Apparently the style I work in is getting more popular again as people find bankruptcy in modernity, but I do not think that is the case. Styles always eventually rebel against teaching, and even when teaching says ‘everything is art’ it can still move in unexpected directions. All I know is what I do.
17. What do you think the role of an artist is?
I am going to answer this as a fine artist. It is to get the result that represents the highest amount of skill I can put into making something look good. I want to make it look better than anyone else.
18. What do you think your work contributes?
Skill. In a direction. I make work that looks better than a photo, if I can, or I might as well be a photographer.
19. What techniques do you use?
I am primarily an oil painter, so colour selection is… Look, can you ask me this as a whole totally different question? I have whole blog posts on this. I can make a good picture in ink, pencil, oil, watercolour, or charcoal. So far I have only made one work in clay.
20. Are you self taught or trained?
I had a tutor for a bit over a year. That gave me enough information about what I wanted to and should learn, and I went off on my own.
21. What is most important to you the subject of your painting or how it is executed?
The two are usually linked, but the execution is always the thing that makes a painting. That includes arrangement of the subject, though. Still life or portrait or whatever, you have to make choices as part of the execution about what the subjects should be or do.
22. What aspects of your work do you think you could improve?
Most of them. I have been a pro for two years. Marketing is a problem for me, and that is part of the job if not part of the artistic work. If there is one thing, it is my mastery of shape and outline in tonal painting. If I could paint with better accuracy that would make the works faster. I have to check and re-check a lot. A millimetre can be a big distance.
23. What’s the biggest compliment that’s ever been made about your work?
Someone looked at a work of mine and said ‘That is just like real life But! Better!’. That’s exactly what I want people to think, and to have someone say so spontaneously was a joy.
24. What’s the biggest criticism of your work that’s been made?
Usually, I get criticism I ask for. ‘needs more shadow there’ or ‘warmer onthe central part’. I guess the mass criticism of sending off a lot of pictures to people who did not bother to write back saying ‘thank you but no’. That annoyed me for a few days. Far worse is people who applaud everything I do, when I think some is crap. If they applaud the bits I think lack skill, that means it is harder to feel good when they like other things.
25. What’s your favourite period in art history and why?
French Academy. Because Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr.
26. What’s your favourite colour and why?
Favourite colour? Not sure. Favourite oil paint? Ultramarine. It goes on in layers and builds up to richness and depth.
27. What are you reading at the moment?
This eMail. But I seldom pick up a book without finishing it. I just re-read The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. I have a couple of watercolour and art books on the go, but I dip into those for help rather than reading. Can I wave a flag here for Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon? It might just win a Hugo award, and if not it is still worth reading.
28. Who is your favourite poet?
29. What works of art would you own if space and cost were no object?
Most of Bouguereau’s works. The Peplos Kore. A Klein blue canvas. The Tate Modern once had a great big machine that was just a machine. I’d like that, and The Artist’s Breath from the room it was next door to. Venus Surprised Bathing. That was worth a city state’s national debt, and they refused to sell. I’d want the original, though. Richelieu at the siege of Rochelle. One of my friend Susan’s works, A Windy Day in Cambridge. All of the art. I want all of it! And a hangar to keep it in.
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