Heat Three of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 has announced another winner this week. Philip Edwards took his place in the semi-final, impressing the judges with his inspiring images in Stowe.
Born in Perth in Scotland, Philip has lived between there and Edinburgh his whole life. After graduating from Edinburgh University and College of Art in 2003, he was a gallery artist until completely retraining in accountancy. As Financial Controller for a charity, he now draws for pleasure rather than as a profession, depicting scenes of Scotland and exploring its rapidly changing light and weather effects.
We caught up with Philip to discuss his approach to using soft materials such as charcoal and pastels to achieve a sense of place and atmosphere in the landscape…
Hi Philip! Congratulations on winning your heat! How did you find the whole experience at Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016?
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it. At the beginning of the day I wasn’t sure about how it would be having people look over my shoulder while working, as normally it’s just me and the radio. I tend to completely zone-out when I’m into a drawing, and so I was really worried I would just completely blank people and come across very rude. But when I think back on the whole experience, I can genuinely say I think the interaction with the public, the crew, everyone, was the thing I enjoyed the most.
What first attracted you to Landscape painting?
Well I feel very blessed that Perth sits right on the edge of the Highlands – you can see the tops of the Cairngorms on a good day. Before I had kids, I got my Munro-bagging tally up to 212, and so I have been able to explore a great deal of Scotland’s wild areas, and in the process seen and experienced just what Scottish weather is capable of!
You use a variety of different mediums in your work, including paint and pastels. What would you say the benefits are for capturing a landscape in each medium?
I absolutely love working with charcoal. It is so immediate - you can have a drawing all mapped out, and with the foundations laid, within a matter of seconds. However, I think that it's the depth and variety of tone available that I find most fascinating, and why I keep coming back to it. Sanguine is a Renaissance material, and has been traditionally used for life drawing and portraits. However, I think it really lends itself to landscapes - it has a similar range of tone to charcoal, and the rich and warm tones can add a beautiful glow and vibrancy to a sky. I have only been using pastel for a few months, and am really enjoying it!
Materials-wise, I’m afraid I am very picky… My willow charcoal has to be Windsor & Newton, and for the deep darks Wolfe’s Carbon. I only ever use Conte for Sanguine, and I love Daler pastels. My putty rubber is always Windsor & Newton medium grade, and the toilet paper must be double-ply! I know this all sounds completely obsessive, but I always think that trying to make chunks of earth and clay (which I what these materials are) look like clouds, trees, or skies is difficult enough, without feeling like you’re wrestling with your materials at the same time.
Your practice translates quite idyllic, calm landscapes. Do you capture your pieces are dusk or dawn to achieve such a peaceful atmosphere?
Well quite often yes, but by accident rather than design. I very rarely, if ever, go out hiking in order to get ideas for a drawing. I go out because I love the Highlands, and being out in God’s creation. There are times (all too rare) when the Highlands are calm and at peace, but more often than not, the opposite is the case. I will go out and just simply enjoy the scene and the experience, and if something sticks with me, I will try and draw it.
How long does it take you to realise a piece?
Assuming I’m in the zone and loving the scene and life, from a blank piece of paper to a work I’m finished with normally takes around 2-4 hours. One of the reason why I love drawing is how quick it is! Sometimes I will get a drawing to an “almost-finished-but-not-quite-there” point, then hide it away for a week or so, to go back to it with fresh eyes and make the finishing touches…
Do you paint en plein air or prefer to realise a work back in the studio?
A bit of both to be honest. Ideally I would do all my work outside, but in order to capture the types of light and weather effects I love, it’s just not practical. Drawing in a white-out is not much fun…
What was the best piece of advice you gained from the show?
Well I think it was Mr Skinner re-affirming to me that the putty rubber is indeed mankind’s greatest invention.
Finally, were you pleased with your painting in Stowe?
I know this again highlights the rather obsessive side of my nature, but I always award myself “grades” for my drawings – A+, A, B-, D etc… I’m not going to tell you what grade I gave myself for my Stowe drawing, but I was happy with what I did on the day, all things considered. I am quite chuffed with a few wee flashes and touches in it…
Read our exclusive interviews with Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 heat winners every week on the Cass Art Blog.
Catch the fourth episode of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 on Tuesday 1st November on Sky Arts from 8pm.