In the Studio: Madeleine Pires

This month dot-art speaks to artist Madeleine Pires.

Madeleine Williamson Pires was educated in Scotland, where the rugged beauty of her natural surroundings inspired her drawings and paintings. With an ability to portray details beyond her years, she went on to do a degree in Fine Art at the University of the West of England. She has travelled extensively in Europe and the Middle East throughout her life, creating oil paintings that reflect the wonder and passion of an adventurous free spirit. She is now based near Liverpool, where she continues to develop her painting, from expressive landscapes to incomprehensible space scenes which are wild yet peaceful; sometimes realistic, sometimes abstract – or a mixture of the two.

Madeleine also teaches on many of our dot-art Creative Courses including our very popular Abstract Painting course. We speak to Madeleine about her experience as an Artist Tutor.

What are you working on at the moment?

 I’m working on an abstract watercolour painting commissioned by a local theology professor, who is also an art lover! It illustrates a biblical passage and incorporates a sinuous interweaving thread with coloured clouds (two of my favourite visual languages) and includes written Hebrew lettering.

I’ve also got a new tree of life oil painting underway, which acts as a sort of “gateway” into a fantasy world beyond based on a real Scottish landscape. It has many layers and is quite ambitious.

2.Can you tell us about your teaching on courses? What do you enjoy about teaching art?

The educational and community aspect of art has become more important to me in recent years, despite having always preferred relative solitude in my own art practice. Turning my experience and artistic passions into courses has been a wonderful way to bring people together with similar interests.

One of the reasons people come is because they don’t have many opportunities to be creative in their everyday jobs or lives. Art courses enable people to use their hands as well as observation skills to make something beautiful and personal. In this fast-paced, convenience-celebrating world dominated by technology, I have seen people released into the simple pleasure of creating, learning to listen to (and follow) their intuition for a change, and experiencing the satisfaction that comes from persevering.

Teaching art to beginners is a wonderful way to pass on the essential skills and know-how that I was fortunate to receive when I was younger. It feels entirely appropriate to spend some of my time teaching and encouraging others. To me, art isn’t just about making something fantastic that people admire; it’s also about serving others and helping them to make something beautiful too.

I always enjoy teaching Abstract Painting, because with the absence of pressure to produce something “realistic”, the students are freed to explore colour relationships, texture, patterns and various methods of evoking mood in visual ways. Every artwork is unique, carrying something special of the unique person who created it, and they are encouraged to try something new and embrace spontaneity. I also enjoy teaching a little of the history of art and the reasons people make art. Discussing this with other people on the courses is thought-provoking and satisfying – we all learn something new, including me!   

Chinese brush painting is always a popular course. I love the fluidity and freshness of working with ink and showing how truly versatile a paintbrush is when wielded correctly. It is a very graceful and relaxing art form.

I’ve also taught drawing/painting nature and quote illustration, which is a great opportunity to learn and be inspired by art movements of the past, such as Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, and creating our own present-day nature and literature-themed interpretations. Composition, measuring and the mathematical side of art comes out in these ones. It’s also a good way to show people how their art can be turned into different kinds of gifts.  

Have you ever been surprised by a student? Could you tell us about that moment?

 A student surprised me once by producing such exquisite paintings, I could hardly believe she was doing a scientific degree! Another time, after watching a student draw for a few minutes, I asked her if she had a mathematical job, to which, astonished, she replied, “I’m an accountant!

Are you teaching any courses soon? Can you tell us about them?

 Sketching in the Park is coming up soon, beginning on September 24th. Autumn is always an inspiring and productive time of year for me. The texture and silent grace of trees, the glorious leaves with their changing colours and stunning shapes are all celebrated and explored in this course. We will also look at how to compose a successful landscape as well as observational drawing. I’ll show how drawings of the natural world can be used to make unique, artistic presents.

Abstract Painting is starting on November 13th. It’s always a little bit different every time, but the techniques and tools we use are essentially the same. It’s a great opportunity to release your “inner child” and just interact with the paint and tools. Creativity is in the hands, in the moving and experimenting, not just in the decisions we make in our heads. We’ll look at the styles of various abstract artists and develop our own artistic voices too.

Does your teaching and working with students ever make its way back into your own artistic practice?

I do numerous demonstration pieces to teach students in the most comprehensive, accessible and practical way.  Often, I get so excited by these that I carry them on in my own time – or make bigger versions of them – and they become successful pieces that I sell (or sometime keep for future courses!). Especially with the abstract art course, I never would have learned the scrape and pour techniques had I not researched and experimented for the course. Incorporating these techniques into some of my own work adds to its variety and versatility of myself as an artist. This breadth of experience means that my confidence has grown and people’s confidence in me grows too, since I am able to do so many different styles and themes.

What are you looking to try next?

I’m interested in transferring my skills to large-scale work such as murals on buildings.

I would like to write and teach new workshops and courses using art to celebrate other vital yet increasingly under-valued aspects of our culture, such as music, reading, creative writing and poetry. Sometimes the imaginative qualities of art are exactly what we need to bridge different subjects and motivate people to live well and focus on the positives.

This fits with my personal vision of “expressing beauty and truth through art”. And I’m not the only artist who has had this philosophy. I think it was Pierre-Auguste Renoir who said, “There are too many unpleasant things in life without creating any more of them!”

Are there any local artists you are keeping an eye on at the moment?

I really like the mood and atmosphere of Amanda Oliphant’s work and Ali Barker’s scrape technique (both dot-art member artists). I use their work as demonstrations in my Abstract Painting course.

Not local, but in Sussex, is an artist called Gill Bustamante who paints stunning natural scenes. I always keep an eye on what she’s doing.

In my husband’s native Portugal, there is a German sculptor called Georg Scheele who makes incredibly harmonious marble sculptures which are very similar to my own sinuous drawings. I’ve never resonated so strongly with another artist’s work; it’s like we both speak the same “artistic language”. We always visit him in his studio when we are there.

Discover more of  Madeleine Pires work on our online shop!