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Introduction. Profile. The Claire Frances Smith Collection.

Claire Frances Smith.

History & Background.

I grew up in a large family on the outskirts of London. My parents were both creative people who encouraged me and my brothers and sisters in all our own creative endeavours. I have early memories of my mum painting oils and watercolours and although she was very good she didnít pursue this as a career. Both my parents taught music and I have grown up with a wide appreciation of all kinds of music and find it very hard to work without it in the background. Iíve always loved painting and drawing and as a teenager I was never bored as I would sketch and paint anything from David Bowie album covers to everyday objects around me although my best work has always come from my imagination. I think my parents must have been very understanding about my need to express myself artistically as once I painted my whole bedroom in multi-coloured clouds floor to ceiling with birds flying over and they thought it was great!

At school I lived for my art lessons and I am still grateful to this day to my teachers for their constant encouragement. By the time I left school I knew there would be nothing else I would want to do as a career although it took me a long time from that point to realise my potential as a professional fine artist. I studied Design and Illustration at Barking College in East London and was very fortunate to have two Royal College of Art trained tutors. My course was aimed more at graphic design and illustration than fine art but gave me a good grounding in composition and colour theory which in recent years has helped me enormously with my work.

My first child was born shortly after completing my college years and my life was suddenly full of the joys of raising her and my two other children that followed. Although I continued to enjoy creative endeavours my painting career really began when I moved to Norfolk where I now live. I plucked up the courage to exhibit locally and gained interest from local galleries as a result. I worked as a gallery manager for a while all the time gathering experience art business whilst quietly developing my own painting style. I forged relationships with new galleries as my confidence grew and soon they were approaching me for work. I have also been teaching art to students locally for the last couple of years and this has been an education for me too. In order to teach you have to know your subject inside out.

Working with Washington Green has given me the support I need to move forward with my work and will hopefully enable more people to enjoy the work as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

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Ideas & Inspirations.

For me an exciting painting is one where there is emphasis on tonal contrasts, light and dark; these are the paintings I am drawn to. The Pre- Raphaelites were very good at creating accurate and life like images whilst injecting incredible drama into their work with just the use of strong contrasts of light and dark. I also admire the work of Johannes Vermeer, John Singer Sargent, and Joaquin Sorolla for the same reason, simple subjects given breath-taking beauty with the attention on how the light falls on the subject. I try to use this technique in my own work, itís all about what happens where there is light and where there is shade. Water and fish are perfect subjects to paint for me because of the reflections, bubbles, ripples, movement and contrast.

Ancient Japanese legend tells of the Koi fish swimming relentlessly upstream against the waters flow which represents strength in a time of adversity. The Koi then leap up a waterfall and on reaching the top are then transformed into a dragon which in itself represents strength and good fortune. I love the symbolism of the Koi and I think we can all recognise times in our lives when things have been difficult and we have used all our strength to overcome these challenges. Aside from the representation of what the Koi stand for their beautiful colours and patterns make them a wonderful subject for me and represent new horizons and hope for the future.

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From Palette to Picture.

I want to say that my technique involves a series of stages and a carefully planned outcomeÖunfortunately for me this is not the case! I often plan for a painting to be in autumnal shades and the end result turns out to be very different. For me it seems that a painting develops in its own way. I have long given up trying to control too closely the end result which inevitably only leads to frustration. I trust that what will arise will be a surprise to me and full of spontaneity and life. I study closely scenes from life and the thousands of photographs I have of my subject. I sketch these in pencil carefully considering their form and movement. I then put my reference away and begin work on my canvas, laying down an under painting in a colour that I know will give me the effect I need to represent the depth of water I am painting. My main area of focus is on the light play on the surface of the water which I loosely sketch in with paint. I do no drawing initially preferring to work up to the later addition of the fish using paint. This method helps me to integrate the fish using the same technique throughout. Painting a water scene is highly complex as the artist needs to consider what is going on above the surface, on the surface, just below and the distortions created deep below too. I enjoy adding the final touches of light on the bubbles and extreme highlights on the fish. It is these that create the strongest contrasts and bring the painting to life.

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A day in the Life of...

My painting day begins with me waking up at about 6am and feeling excited about work. Iíve usually prepared my canvas the night before as far as the under painting is concerned. My studio is at home so Iím able to start work very early and continue to paint till anytime in the evening if things are going well.

My children are all older now so Iím able to work fairly uninterrupted for the most part. Anyone who works from home will know itís easy to get side-tracked by chores, visitors, paperwork and it requires you to be quite strict with yourself to get a full dayís work in.

I work in short bursts of a couple of hours or so stopping for a cuppa or to reply to a phone call etc. I need music or radio chat on in the background as it helps me stay focussed on my work and not feel cut off from the world too much. I also make time in the week for friends and family and physical exercise and often have weekends away which help me to re-charge for another weekís solitary work in my studio.

I try to have a proper lunch break but it does tend to involve me staring at my canvas whilst eating a sandwich. In fact I have to drag myself away from my work because even when Iím tired I find it hard to leave a painting unfinished, Iím really only happy if I have completed something by the time I go to bed. This can prove difficult as I often have several works on the go at once, all at different stages of development.

Itís nice to wind down with a glass of wine and catch up with my man at the end of a productive day feeling happy about what Iíve done and excited about tomorrow.

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