Interview: Artist Jamie Routley

by Cass Art

Artist Jamie Routley's work is currently on display in the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery until 15 September 2013.

As part of our Meet the Artists programme Jamie Routley  joined us at the Kensington store, 220 Kensington High Street W8, to talk about his art, painting processes, portraits and answer your questions on Sunday the 18 August. You can find the full details and schedule for the Meet the Artists programme here.

We caught up with the man in the mirror at his studio to talk inspiration, portraiture and essential materials for an exclusive Cass Art interview.

Was there a defining moment when you decided you wanted to be an artist?

A school trip to Paris when I was 14 years old: I remember being stood in front of Courbet’s ‘Origin of the World’, which I suppose was fairly explicit for a 14 year old, but I understood what Courbet was saying and I was moved by it. My friends laughed and made jokes but I didn’t care, they weren’t really looking, I was and I knew what the painting was about and felt exhilarated by the process of looking and interpreting a painting; it may possibly have been the first organic thought of my life. It was the first time that I’d been to a gallery. I cannot say that I decided to be an artist that day because I didn’t, we didn’t know anything about the art world, so a career would never have crossed my mind. What I can say is that life was much better from then on.

Who or what has influenced your work most?

My influences are varied, I look at painters both past and present and have been lucky with certain teachers I’ve had and artists I’ve met. My decision to move to Florence to study under Charles Cecil was life changing.

How has your practice evolved since then and what are you working on at the moment?

My practice is evolving constantly. When I left Florence I didn’t paint a portrait for over a year because I was tired of them. I painted landscapes instead which eventually led me back to painting people. Through landscape painting I worked through issues I had with my training , I had to dissect what I had been taught and discard certain things which didn’t belong to me. I’ve slowly built on top of the invaluable foundation I received under Charles.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Inspiration generally comes from observing the environment around me and people interest me. I look at other painters, musicians, etc.. I keep my eyes open. There is one place that I go when I’m either feeling lost or on the rare occasion too confident (which tends to breed complacency in me): I go to Apsley House to see Velazquez’s Pope Innocent portrait. For me this is the best portrait head in existence. It either brings me crashing down to earth or gears me up to get back into the studio. It’s not that I want to emulate Velazquez; he simply reminds me what painting is capable of.

Where did you grow up and where did you study? Did these places have an influence on your work?

I grew up in Newport South Wales and attended a Welsh speaking school on the edge of the Brecon beacons. I then completed a BTEC in Art and Design before studying Illustration for a Bachelor of Arts. My real education however came when I left the UK to study under Charles Cecil. Florence had a major impact on every aspect of my life.

What draws you to portraiture and do you make any other work?

My interest in portraiture is in the sitters psyche more than the aesthetic, but of course the aesthetic is a close second. I paint landscapes as well as portraits but I see very little difference in my approach towards them both. I find I observe and react in the same way and I wait for moments.

How would you describe your work?

I’m a representational painter; I wouldn’t want to pigeon hole myself and my work anymore than that.

Could you tell us about your working method and process?

I use distance when painting a portrait. I place the easel and canvas alongside the sitter and stand at on the opposite side of the studio and observe at a distance. I try to work on the whole canvas; instead of getting bogged down in one area for too long. The distance allows me to think about how the painting is working as a whole but also is very good for observation; I think the sitter opens up a bit more because you’re not invading any personal space.

What materials do you use?

I mostly use oil paint on Belgian linen and a variety of painting mediums depending on the painting and weather conditions.

Do the materials you use inform the work or vice versa?

Both work and materials are equal in importance. You need to know your materials to execute your work properly. When I’m painting I’m reacting quickly to what is going on in front of me, having confidence in my materials is paramount to being able to put down what I’m seeing and thinking.

What are the vitals tools in your studio?

Lead white, Canada balsam, a pocket size mirror, an ample supply of brushes and my crank easel.

Which colours are essential in your palette and why?

My palette varies depending on the subject matter; I add and subtract colours as and when. My basic palette for a portrait head would be: Lead White, Golden Ochre, Chinese Vermillion, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine blue and Ivory black. I never use black when painting landscapes.

What are your favourite brushes and why?

Sable brushes, as many as I can get in every size.

Overall which product is essential to your practice and why would you recommend it?

Michael Harding Lead White in walnut oil. Or I hand grind Lead White pigment with Walnut Oil. I generally use Michael Harding for most colours. Lead White has a unique quality which works perfectly for skin in my opinion.

Find more of Jamie Routley's work at

Image: Inner Dialogue by Jamie Routley, 2013 © Jamie Routley All artwork © Jamie Routley

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