The world fell in love with his work at the BP Portrait Awards. Here is an insight into the mind of Alan Coulson

"My wife and I also have three kids and I think it’s important that they see us putting our time and efforts into something we are passionate about."

 Interview by Henry Gomez

Q1. In your own words, please explain what it is you do.

I make portraits. Drawings and paintings of individuals with lovely faces! I’ve no particular interest in narrative in my work, I simply hope to make sensitively made, honest representations of people I meet.
Q2. What inspired your passion for portraiture, and who has been supporting you from the beginning?
I’ve had slight obsession with portraiture since school really.  My A level art teacher was a wonderful man who encouraged us to paint with oils and look at artists such as Lucian Freud and Stanley Spencer. He organized a trip to London, and visiting the National Portrait Gallery planted a seed I think.
However I got slightly sidetracked and it wasn’t until much later that I started making my own work, with almighty support and encouragement from family and friends!
Q3. You have good experience of exhibiting your work at some high profile venues.  How does one go about getting their work exhibited in such places as The National Portrait Gallery, The Gallery in Cork Street and other prestigious venues?
Luck? I suppose the most difficult aspect of being an artist is getting your work seen, so it’s a blessing there are so many high profile open exhibitions in London. The BP Portrait Award is an amazing showcase for contemporary portraiture, and as I work exclusively within portraiture, it’s always been a highlight of my annual art calendar. To have work selected for exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is an absolute dream come true for me. My work has been selected for three consecutive years, and in 2012 I won third prize with my painting of Richie Culver.
Q4. Is there anything you are currently working on that you would like to tell us about?
I have a group show in the pipeline with a couple of amazing fellow artist friends.
Right now I’m busy completing new works for a solo show in East London this summer Opening on the First Thursday in June until the 3rd July 2013 at: George Contemporary Art and Design , 338 Hackney Road, London E2 7AX.
Q5. Are there any techniques that are particularly useful that you could recommend to others, perhaps students that are finding their style?
With oil painting in particular it’s easy to become overwhelmed by opinion on correct practice, technique and tradition. What’s the best medium to use? Which brushes to use? How to produce the best glaze? To be honest the best advise I can offer is to keep things simple, put as much time as possible into developing your own practice and unique way of working.
"Portrait of my Father"
Q6. If looking at your earlier work and compare it to what you have recently produced, how has your style evolved?
There is more clarity to my recent work but I think things are only just beginning to evolve. Having spent the last few years concerned with achieving a certain level of realism, I’m now trying to work out how to move it forward.

"Girl in coeruleum blue"
Q7. What would you say has been the public’s favorite piece of yours?
Last summer I was incredibly fortunate to have my painting Richie Culver used heavily in London to promote the BP portrait award. I can’t say whether the public liked it but if you were commuting around London it was pretty hard to miss!
Q8. What is your favorite piece of your own work?
I’d say the painting of my friend Latoya. I feel I set a standard for myself with that piece. It’s just something I feel proud of.

I’m useless at keeping any record of the number of hours I put in to any particular piece. I tend to have a number of works on the go at any one time and chop and change.     

   "Study of Latoya"

Q9. How long does a portrait usually take you to complete and what process do you follow?
I always start of with a simple line drawing and after that the technical side of my work is purely down to trial and error! It’s funny. The finished result appears quite tidy, but I’m constantly adjusting, painting and re-painting areas, often sanding whole areas back. Ultimately, (I hope) this gives the work depth.

Q10. What are the hardships that come with being a full-time artist?
Like anyone who is self-employed there is always the worry of when the next sale or commission will come along, but when I get up in the morning I’m either painting or spending time with my kids.  So either way I’m immensely happy doing something I love.
Q11. From your experience in the arts, what advice could you offer people looking to succeed in a similar field?
It’s hard not to answer this without sounding like I’m quoting an episode of Dawson’s Creek, but push your technique, be prepared to put in a lot of hours and don’t make work to please anyone but yourself.
Q12. Are there any courses or classes you could recommend someone take if they want to be a professional in the same field as yourself?
I’m not qualified to give that kind of advise as I didn’t have much success at art school!

Q13. Would you be willing to take on an apprentice?
I’m surprised by the number of emails I receive from students looking for internships or work experience. At present though I’m working on such a intimate and personal scale that I’m not really sure what I’d be able to offer.
Q14. How many years have you been fighting to get the acknowledgement you have today? And what has that time in your life been like?
I moved to London in my mid twenties and had been working in fashion retail until 2006 when I quit and decided to focus on painting. It’s not always been easy, but I made a decision to do something creative and I’m proud to say it’s paying off. My wife and I also have three kids and I think it’s important that they see us putting our time and efforts into something we are passionate about.
"Quietly Observed"
Q15. If you weren’t working as an artist, what job could you see yourself doing?
I’d probably still be in retail. I spent my twenties standing around in clothes shops. It was never going to be a career for me but there was no back up plan. I think on a subconscious level I always knew I’d get off my arse and start painting.
Q16. Please share with us your proudest moment in your career so far?
The proudest moments for me are taking my family along to see my work up on a gallery wall. ‘Look there’s daddy’s painting!’ That’s a great feeling.
Alan's Website:
"Self Composed"

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