A Day With: Emma Cownie

Emma Cownie is a talented British artist whose works have been featured in exhibitions and publications across the UK. Always seeking to achieve a strong visual impact, Cownie composes works marked by bold blocks of color and an expressive palette. Influenced by great American realists like Edward Hopper, Cownie paints the quiet, the spacious and the still. We recently caught up with the artist to learn more about her creative process and her artistic practice.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I wake up and think about what I am going to do that day. This is decided after I have looked at the weather forecast, so I can think about whether I want to go out and take photos of subject matter. Sometimes I am wanting a bright sunny day, other days I am hoping for fluffy clouds, there have been times I have wanted to paint the rain, in the night as well as the day. A day of blanket grey skies is an indoor day for me, painting in my attic studio. Usually I have a painting to complete from the day before and I will paint most days at some point.

What inspires you to create every day?

I love to create and paint, this is a main motivation. It is when I feel most happy. My inspirations are varied whether the subject matter is mundane or exceptional. Inspiration for paintings and subject matter come from the streets of ordinary houses in Wales, people interacting at a marketplace or a deserted beach in Donegal, Ireland. They also all bring different challenges. I often get drawn to scenes that are probably over-looked and ignored in daily life like poignant or amusing human situations or I love to paint a relatively neglected part of landscape, not often seen before. I like to search for inspiration.

Emma Cownie, 'Early Morning, Three Cliffs Bay,'  2018. Oil on Canvas, 60x80cm.
Emma Cownie, ‘Early Morning, Three Cliffs Bay,’ 2018. Oil on Canvas, 60x80cm.

What does your work space look like?

I work in an attic with a north-facing sky light. It’s pretty crowded as it has a pitched roof. I also have a desk with a laptop. This is where I do my oil paintings. The steep stairs can make it difficult to get canvases in and out. Sometimes I will move downstairs to paint with water-based acrylics, on a table in the basement or in the garden. I also have an outside studio in my back garden where I can paint when it is too warm to paint in the attic.

Describe the core of your technique or style.

There has to be something that interests me about a composition, usually it’s a particular color (say a shade of red or turquoise), or a shard of light on the corner of something, the angle of a shadow, or the light on a face. The interplay of light and shadow is the essence of my style and technique. Years after painting a picture I can still I point out the thing that interested me in that painting. The rest of the painting is a concert around that point of interest. Sometimes, the painting is like a giant puzzle I am trying to piece together, other times I work outwards from a face, or a shadow. The core of my technique is clean, vibrant coloring which is inspired by artists who paint the light and the quiet, the still and the shadowed.

Emma Cownie, 'Salisbury Road, Cardiff,' 2017. Oil on Linen, 38x46cm.
Emma Cownie, ‘Salisbury Road, Cardiff,’ 2017. Oil on Linen, 38x46cm.

What are your top 3 studio essentials?

Top studio essentials – a clean palette, lots of rags, good brushes at hand. I listen to podcasts whilst I paint usually politics and current affairs from around the world, as well as on language and history. I have a cup of tea in travel mug on the table next to me, which I usually only remember to drink from when it has turned lukewarm. Although I can listen to words on a podcast I can’t talk and paint, so no talking.

How do you know or decide when an artwork is finished?

My way of checking that I have finished a painting is to leave it for an hour or so and return to the studio to try and “catch” it – to see if something jars or seems to be missing, then I know that it needs a little more work. I work with very light layers of paint and I am careful not to over-work canvases. A painting has to look as if it was created “all in one go”. There should be no hint of the effort that went into it’s creation.

Emma Cownie, 'Dressed Up For Each Other,' 2018. Oil on Linen, 30x40cm.
Emma Cownie, ‘Dressed Up For Each Other,’ 2018. Oil on Linen, 30x40cm.

What do you like to do to unwind after a day’s work?

Yoga, walk the dogs in the countryside, read.

What’s your overall favorite aspect of the creative process?

When you surprise yourself with what you have created. I love the fact that I am in charge of the whole creative process, from initial image to completed work, that I have made “something” from nothing.

The artist at work in her studio.
The artist at work in her studio.

Thanks, Emma! Check out more of her beautiful artwork on Singulart.

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