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In conversation with our first entrant...

Updated: Oct 23, 2018

Shefali Wardell talks to Fiona Hackman

Cherry Orchard


So we're thrilled that you were the first entrant to the art award and also really like the work too which is a bonus! Can you tell us a bit more about the painting Cherry Orchard, and also why you wanted to enter an art award.


I am thrilled too, especially as I managed to send you payment without actually attaching my work or any information about it! Thank you for being so helpful and positive in the face of such battiness on my part.

My painting ‘Cherry Orchard’ is my first attempt at breaking away from my tight illustrative and photo-realistic style. I did a weekend workshop with the artist Gerry Dudgeon, which was all about exploring abstraction in the landscape and under painting the canvas with brightly coloured paint marks and washes.

Gerry’s studio is set in the beautiful Dorset landscape with a cherry orchard nearby, which caught my eye. I sketched the trees initially, then re-drew them from the original drawing several times in order to abstract them. It became very liberating as they took on dancing forms as my painting developed.

I joined a local art society recently and have been encouraged enough by the response to my work to be motivated to try entering larger national art awards. I made the long list in one national art prize and got fired up to try again. A ceramicist friend told me about Refresh Art and thanks to her here I am.


I know, that was really funny with the submission but Internet forms are actually quite anxiety inducing!

It's interesting about moving away from a photo-realistic style because many artists find they have to learn the skills needed for this type of precise work, before approaching abstraction. Yet from the outside it's often assumed that abstract work is easier.

The workshop with Gerry Dudgeon sounds like it really moved your practice on, and it's lovely that you were able to take inspiration from your surroundings.

Are you particularly interested in landscapes and have you got any other paintings planned in this style?

What do you think artists get from joining a local art society?


I am drawn to painting in oils which is a medium I only discovered very recently through doing a workshop in my local art society. Landscapes and portraits are the two areas that particularly interest me. I have lots of ideas floating about in my head at the moment, which I am longing to get stuck in to, but have several tight pastel portrait commissions to do first as well as other work commitments frustratingly.

I want to work on large canvases using large flat brushes in a looser more abstract style and just let rip to see what happens. I will probably use a variation on Gerry’s under painting technique too as I really like the way the random marks and colours inform the painting taking it in unexpected directions. And if it doesn’t work out then I can paint over it until it does. So no pressure!

I think art societies are a great resource for artists, encouraging members to exhibit work and be inspired with workshops and artist demonstrations where ideas and techniques are shared. My local art society is a creative and friendly collaborative hub of artists of all styles and abilities.


I've only tried oil painting once and I know it's completely different from watercolour and acrylics. I do love the buttery, shiny nature of the colours and the way you can manipulate the paint though.

Have you got any oil painting advice for beginners? Did you find it was an easy medium to get started with, and what's good about working with it?

The pastel portrait commissions actually sound interesting, even though they're in a different style! Where can people see your work, buy it or commission you?


I have been very surprised by what a malleable and exciting medium oil paint is. Working wet into wet is my favourite as the painting seems to have a life of it’s own and almost paints itself which is handy! I love the way you can mix the paint actually on the canvas as you are working. And it is incredibly forgiving because if it all goes wrong you can scrape it off or paint over it once it has dried.

My advice for beginners would be to get just a few tubes of professional quality oil paint rather than a whole set of cheaper ones and a variety of good brushes to try out. There is one rule which is important to know which is working 'fat over lean’ in order to avoid cracking later on, as the thicker top paint layer takes longer to dry.

I like to prepare the surface with a ground colour painted in thin oil or acrylic paint to lessen the daunting challenge of a blank white canvas. Then just jump in and enjoy experimenting.

I really need to get a website sorted out for my pet portrait commissions.


Ah this is great with the pet portraits. I was only talking the other week about how I'd love to curate a really serious exhibition of pet portraits. Critically speaking it's such an under investigated part of the art world, where it really intersects with everyday life.

What made you start pet portraits? Do you have any pets?


I started doing pet portraits out of necessity really, to supplement my income alongside my other work. There is a demand for them and most people want a very realistic rendition of their pet, which is something I can do relatively easily.

I have always had pets and life without my critters would just not be the same. Photographs of my cats, dogs, runner ducks, hens and mini Shetland ponies feature heavily on my Instagram account as they are such a photogenic and comical bunch.


Agree totally about furry friends and I think pet portraits are just one of those things that shows us how important they are in our lives.

Thanks so much for a really interesting chat.

You can see Fiona’s Facebook album at https://www.facebook.com/fiona.hackman/media_set?set=a.10154355291938989&type=3

Instagram: @bootshackman

Betty by Fiona Hackman