We're thrilled to learn about Clare Haxby today, who has created a successful career for herself as an artist spanning the fine art and commercial art realms. We're sure you'll enjoy digging into this fantastic and in depth interview where she graciously opened up to us about her life and work. Thank you so much, Clare!
Would you tell us briefly about yourself? Did you know at a young age you wanted to be an artist?
Hi I am Clare I am a painter & printmaker. I make large acrylic and mixed media paintings on canvas and I have an online shop selling limited edition prints. My work is inspired by travelling and motherhood,. As a family we lived in Singapore for 8 years till last year and my work had a massive boost whilst in Asia in terms of output and inspiration and opportunity. I also love designing textiles and renovating our Victorian house in Surrey, England. I am happy as long as I am involved in something creative! I'm married to Owen and we have 3 children Teddy-James 15 Scarlett Angel 14 and Alfie-Tyger 6. I was about 7 or 8 when I realised Art was my thing, I was way better at it than anything else and when I made a fabric collage and embroidery of a Kingfisher at school the teachers made quite a fuss which was curious to me.
You won a scholarship and traveled to Venezuela and Brazil during university in the UK. How did your early travels influence your aesthetic and style? How did this evolve over the years?
I was studying Fine Art Printmaking at Kingston upon Thames University London when I won the travel scholarship to South America, it was an amazing opportunity as I spent 6 weeks travelling through Venezuela and Brazil thrown into a new experience every day including several days on the Amazon sleeping in a Hammock. I really hadn't travelled much at all at that point in my life certainly nowhere far flung and I can say without doubt this trip definitely opened my eyes to the potential of travel and definitely gave me a huge desire to do more. I'd never seen a palm tree before and I saw some rare amazonian pink river dolphins, it was also the first time I saw true poverty. This trip directly inspired my artwork I created a lot of paintings on the rainforest and ecology and when I left university I set up my first small business The Green Design Company from my tiny bedsit in Surbiton, Surrey I printed some of my rainforest designs on t-shirts and cards. This was the 1990s and ecology was a hot press issue so I ended up having interest from magazines and then I started selling at Camden Market and music festivals like Glastonbury, it was hard work but the t-shirts sold like hot cakes and I would see people wearing them in London, it was exciting ! Eventually I started selling to independent retailers in England and Europe then progressed to taking a trade stand in Paris and there I received order for bigger stores like Isetan in Japan and Singapore.
Fast forward quite a few years and I had 2 young children and my studio work was on the back burner... my husband got a overseas assignment with his company to Singapore. We moved there in 2007 the lifestyle was good and my then 2 children settled into their new life, I joined an artists group and met some great people mostly other expats who were also away from home. Being part of a group was great as it gave me the confidence to paint again and I made new friends and we put on group shows.
I also set up a studio at home there was a separate building at the back of the house the old maids quarters and I used that as my workspace, a recommendation from a friend led to me being offered a show at one of the large hotels on the marina the Fullerton Hotel and this was the beginning of my art being put on the map in Singapore. I spent 4 years painting a series of 20 large paintings aswell as having a new baby so it was no overnight thing and it was more organic than planned. I did not sell many paintings from the show straight away, people visited the show then phoned up to visit the studio then bought and by the time my husbands job got moved back to the uk last year I had a lot of regular clients.
You've worked with a variety of clients in various industries from fashion and commercial clients to galleries and the Victoria and Albert Museum. You seem to have found the right balance for yourself of bridging the fine art and commercial art worlds.
I love being creative and that includes several disciplines, I used to sell my textiles designs through an agent, the pay was really bad but the thrill was huge when I walked into Liberty's of London store one day and saw all my dragonfly designs on a range of giftware, it felt very validating. Before my first 2 children were born I also worked as a freelance make-up artist in London sometimes body-painting, sometimes working as an assistant on pop videos for Jamaroquai or the Beegees , I worked with some cool people but the extreme hours and intermittent last minute nature of the jobs are not family friendly so once I had children I had to give that part of my life up.
My husband has always travelled with his job so I put all my energy into being a stay at home mum. I did miss being creative and being my own person outside the roll of mum but in those early years of motherhood I was on my own a lot and so never had the time or the energy to paint with 2 under 5s at home
I love painting my large scale paintings on canvas and I am lucky in that I have clients who have the space and budget to buy and collect these pieces. I am passionate however to not make my art elitist. When I had set up a studio in Singapore I held open days about once per month, it was a relaxed friendly space and people loved being able to visit an artists studio see work in progress. Lots of people asked if I would be doing smaller artworks of the Singapore Landmarks range of paintings I was working on and so my idea to create a limited edition prints collection was born. The prints are an affordable option and are a huge success with the expat community in Singapore as well as the locals who like my contemporary approach to their amazing landmark architecture. The prints are bought as gifts and leaving presents and I send them all over the world now not just to Singapore. I really do like the fact that my art is collected by a diverse group of people and budget is not a barrier. My prints and paintings have now found homes around the globe from New Zealand to New York and I am absolutely thrilled by this. The French Embassy collects my work as do other VIPS in Singapore.
Can you touch upon a few formative experiences that have impacted your career?
I left home at 16, my family didn't understand me so I was living independently from then and had to support myself whilst I was doing my Art foundation course, I took a job in an art shop on Saturdays and also made punk clothes from my bedsit. I had a sewing machine and so I'd be dying bleaching and printing fabric and I'd take the one off pieces to this punk clothing shop in Sheffield called Hickory Dickory Shock. I was forging my own entrepreneurial traits then I guess so it was a good life lesson, the clothes sold well especially a dress I made with skulls and splashed grey dylon dye on it. It sold straight away and they phoned up and asked if I could make another.
I have always been driven to try new things and try to support myself through creating, making, being imaginative. Even though I have a much more comfortable life now I am very driven to make a success of myself with my creative work alongside being a mum to my brood of 3
I had an amazing lecturer Susie Allen who came to Kingston University to teach us once a week, she also taught at the Royal College of Art, she believed in me and supported me She was an important influence on me and she encouraged me to go and see people at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had created a handprinted book of monoprints on the figure, we had had an amazing life model who was a ballet dancer and she had inspired the drawings. The curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum ordered one on the spot for the special Collections department.
What advice would you have for artists looking to bridge those two worlds in a similar manner while staying true to their work?
I don't know that these is an answer to that, its not easy being an artist especially combining it with motherhood its a constant challenge. I never have spare time! My biggest struggle is dividing my time between creating in my studio, my family and the business side. I always feel I am stealing from one to provide for the other. I work from home so no commute time and i like to be around when the children are home but I am frustrated at what feels like a snails pace progress with my work. I have so many ideas with nowhere near enough time to put them out there. Its the reverse of creative block.
I am not represented by a gallery I represent myself but I have suffered burnout in the past because of saving too little time for sleep and rest and am now trying to find a balance which allows me to keep healthy. My advice would be to simply not give up ........I have suffered many rejections and have learnt to drive through that and just pick myself up and carry on, I choose work or jobs that feel right for me, I don't try to think what will sell or what does anyone else want me to do.
Are there any exciting projects you're working on right now or big dream projects you would love to explore?
Collaborations : Currently I am in talks with a client about a travel sketching collaboration which is something different and exciting. I recently went to Croatia and took my sketchbook to draw the glamorous yachts coming in and out of the marinas, I love keeping a sketchbook, Im trying to do more in it now from day to day but I do always take my sketchbook and watercolours or gouache with me when I travel as well as my camera, the thrill of the new experience.
Studio / London Landmarks When I lived in Singapore I created over a 5 year span a collection of Singapore Landmark paintings, Singapore has an eclectic mix of old heritage architecture like the shophouses and Raffles Hotel and new modern skylines such as Marina Bay Sands. Since I moved back to London my clients have been asking ' so you will be doing London Landmarks next right? so yes I have started and my first one is of the striking Liberty of London building on Great Marlborough Street and this will be available as a Limited Edition Print once I have completed the painting!
At the moment I am just so happy to be back in my studio actually painting. We have moved house in England twice in 11 months, firstly the international relocation from Singapore and secondly into a new Victorian house we have renovated. It been an exhausting year so creating has been very much on the back burner for me but now the children are settled into school and I have the best painting space I have ever had filled with natural light and I have started my new London paintings. My longer term plan is to create a collection of textiles, Clare Haxby designs on fabric, design led giftware and stationary, even ceramics.
I sometimes create commissioned paintings for clients and I would love to create another marina painting, I loved painting the Singapore marine with all the reflections on the water. I sold my large painting of Keppel Bay in Singapore to clients in Asia and over the summer I have been sketching the marinas in the South of France whilst we were on vacation near Marseille there so my ideal commission would be to paint another of the world yachting destinations maybe Dubai or Maine in the USA and I'd love to own a yacht myself one day, its on my dream list!