I’ve always wanted to draw and paint from a very early age (facilitated to some degree by my recuperation from asthma related chest infections during the winter months until I reached my teens). Early artistic influences start with my mother Joyce Clarke who, before developing dementia, loved to paint with watercolours. I was also influenced by Charles Tunnicliffe (especilly his illustrations in a number of small ‘Ladybird’ nature books), David Gentleman, Rowland Hilder and Jack Merriot to name but a few. There are too many artists to mention here who have inspired me since – both from the past and the present. Recently I’ve been enjoying looking at the work of Eric Ravilious and his contemporaries who were commissioned to record images of military life during the second world war. Three of my favourite art books that I return to frequently for inspiration show the paintings of Paul Cezanne, Edward Hopper and John Singer Sergeant.
The main palette of colours I use (Winsor & Newton ‘Professional’ quality pigments in all mediums) include: French Ultramarine Blue, Winsor Blue (red shade), Cadmium Lemon, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna (I do not add any black or white paint when using a pure watercolour technique). I use white paint to tint opaque oil colours – often painting a layer of white paint on areas of sky, followed by pale blue or other colours leaving white spaces for clouds (as per the pure watercolour ‘wet into wet’ technique). I tend to avoid using acrylic paints these days, mainly due to disposing of the brush cleaning water that contains plastic polymer waste (I store it in plastic milk containers and use the old seal under the cap to stop leakages), but I do enjoy using them like watercolours when painting reflections in glass, you can use multiple transparent layers (esp on canvas) without causing the muddyness that often occurs trying to do the same with watercolours.
I have recently started providing private tuition on painting with watercolours at my home in Ashbourne on Thursday’s (I was a part time art tutor for Derbyshire County Council from 1986 – 2006). See the Teaching page for information.
Observational drawing is a very important part of my work, I like to do justice to the scene whether I’m in the studio or outside in the countryside, aiming to capture the unique character and beauty of the Peak District (or that of a particular tree). I prefer to produce landscape paintings out on site when possible, the end result of working ‘plein air’ is a looser more spontaneous approach where I feel that I am as one with the scenery – painting almost subconsciously – but still aiming to do justice to the topography of the scene. I use my own original photographs as reference material for studio paintings, using both digital camera and traditional sketchbook to record scenes when there’s insufficient time to paint decent pictures on site. This visual information enables me to produce more detailed figurative landscape studies, concentrating on pictorial composition and the effects of sunlight on the landscape, In 1983, my watercolour painting of Bradbourne Mill, Derbyshire, won the Munroe Trophy in the Derbyshire Open at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Derbyshire.
I have recently started signing the front my paintings with my initials, ‘NAC’, which I feel is less intrusive to the image compared to a full name (signed in pencil on the reverse side as Neil A. Clarke along with the title and picture number and date).
I also produce studio based paintings which depict reflected images on glass surfaces – often a multiplicity of perspectives – aiming to challenge my own observational painting abilities and those of the picture viewer; creating amiguoud but also intriguing imagery. I use my own photographs as reference material – aiming to add an extra dimension to the image by transcribing them into paintings. This is a way of moving towards producing work of a more abstract nature where I could experiment with technique and materials to create much more personalised artworks – relying less on purely figurative imagery. In 2005, my watercolour painting of the German Pavilion, Barcelona, won 1st prize at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists ‘Open all Media’ spring exhibition.
I’ve been producing paintings of Derbyshire towns and buildings for forty years or so now, each painting eventually becoming a closely observed record of a place in time before the inevitable alterations occur that can change the character of a street/town/city often in a negative way.
The Atlantic coast of the Penwith Peninsula, west of St Ives, Cornwall, as some of the finest coastal scenery in the UK. It reminds me so much of parts of the Peak District, but with the added ingredient of the Atlantic ocean as an awe-inspiring backdrop.
All images – Copyright © Neil A Clarke. Any form of reproduction, transmission, manipulation, display or other usage without permission is strictly prohibited.