Artist Interview: Elly Smallwood
How do you feel that working and living in the southern Ontario region has affected your work? How is the artistic community there for the fine arts and how has it enabled you to grow as an artist?
I’m not sure that the area I live in has had a deep impact on my current art, but I’ve definitely found a very supportive and inclusive community of fellow artists who constantly inspire me and push me to work harder and challenge myself.
How was your experience with formal education in artistic practice?
It was definitely a mixed bag, there were a lot of classes that seemed at the time like a waste of money and time, but I do believe that the general atmosphere helped my art improve. Being surrounded by other artists was an amazing experience, and being pushed to constantly explore new styles and themes helped me learn skills and techniques I would have never otherwise sought out.
What does a lot of your routine look like when it comes to setting up your work? Where do you start and how do you build on your piece? What sort of materials are key for you?
It depends on the specific piece, but usually it begins with coming up with the idea and finding either a model or taking reference photos for it. As soon as I have the image ready in my head I usually like to start right away, generally with a charcoal sketch on the canvas, and then oil over top. I work pretty quickly and a lot of my pieces are finished in a day, although some take months. As for materials, I generally only use charcoal and oil for the large pieces, charcoal and acrylic for smaller pieces on paper.
There is a lot of emotion and feeling that comes out of each and every one of your paintings. What do you find that you tend to lean on thematically when you are creating any of your figures? Do you find that you build things from memory, models, or influential imagery that you have been inspired by?
Each piece is a little bit of everything, it’s incredibly hard to break down what influences each individual piece because it’s a million little things coming from everywhere. I try to surround myself with as many images as possible, and often one random image will trigger an idea that slowly grows in my head. I let them be influenced and shaped by emotion and memory, and try not to control them or force them to fit a particular theme.
What is it about the human form that you have come to enjoy painting so much?
It’s the only thing I’ve ever painted that seems to be endlessly fascinating to me. The capacity for emotion and beauty is what makes it such an enjoyable thing to paint. I also have a deep love for anatomy, so that definitely informs my love of the human body to some degree.
How did you come to find and be comfortable with the colour pallet that is frequently used in your work?
I work with just the three primary colours and white, and that originated from not being able to afford to buy any more paint than the four tubes. I think that helped me learn how to work with colour. Beyond that though I never see my art as having a particularly defined colour palette, I just choose colours based on what I find most exciting and dynamic in the moment.
What do you feel are some of the most influential moments and experiences (whether in real life or through consumed media) for your work?
My work is so deeply based in emotion that the moments that most deeply inform it are usually very emotionally intense moments in my life, or moments when the person I am painting allows me to experience and capture a very emotional moment in their life. This requires a lot of vulnerability and trust on their part, and I’m always grateful when I’m allowed into someones life like that.
What kinds of objects and things do you like to keep around you to remain inspired?
I have a lot of books on anatomy and surgery, some from the 1800s, and those are my most prized possessions and what I go to when I need inspiration. I also have some art from other artists who are friends, and those are a constant source of inspiration.
How are you hoping to see your artwork evolve within the next few years?
It’s hard to say right now, I don’t have a specific vision, just a general sense of where I want my art to head that I can’t quite put into words. I’ve always tried to let emotion pull me where it will and dictate the direction of my art, so though I have a strong urge to change and evolve my art, I know that it is something that I can’t force.