Q&A: A portrait of leading Grantham artist Haidee-Jo Summers

Self portrait of Grantham artist Haidee-Jo Summers
Self portrait of Grantham artist Haidee-Jo Summers
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Haidee-Jo Summers, from Sudbrook near Grantham has been a professional artist for almost 20 years. Here she tells Richard Yetman what it’s like to earn your living with brushes and easel.

I started life on the coast in Suffolk and moved to North Yorkshire at the age of nine where I completed my school days and an art foundation course at college in York. I then studied for my BA Hons degree in Leicester and afterwards worked in Nottingham, but have been living in various villages around Grantham for the last sixteen years apart from a year spent living with my husband and children on a tiny island in Brittany, France.

I’ve been a professional artist ever since graduating in 1994, almost twenty years ago, and this has involved not only painting, exhibiting and selling paintings but also teaching art, demonstrating for art societies, writing and publishing articles and my own greetings cards.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an artist and how did it become your profession?

I always enjoyed drawing and making books as a child, and my presents from my parents each Christmas were more paper, pencils and chalk. I was certainly drawing from life regularly by the age of ten, trying to depict what I could see around me with pencils and pens.

You had several prestigious commissions last year, and were elected UK artist of the year. Which of your achievements as an artist are you most proud of?

I have been extremely fortunate to win many competitions and awards throughout my painting life. It was winning a portrait competition on the TV show The Big Breakfast as a student that led to me first using oil paints. Only a few short years later I won my first award as a young artist with the Royal Institute of Oil painters at the Mall Galleries, London.

Although I have now been accepted to exhibit many times at the Royal Institute of Oil painters annual exhibition it is always a thrill and an enormous honour.

I think my most memorable painting event has to be in 2012 when I was part of a small group of artists invited by the BBC to paint at the Queen’s Diamond jubilee pageant on the river Thames. I produced two paintings that day on the millennium bridge, though it poured with rain throughout. Despite the poor weather it was a tremendous event to be a part of and an unforgettable experience.

As a professional artist, do you work regular hours. or do you just work when you feel inspired?

I don’t just work regular hours, as any self employed business owner will attest to it’s actually hard to stop working! I make sure I have one day off each weekend to recharge my batteries, as during the week I often work well into the evening. Waiting for inspiration isn’t something that applies to me. Inspired or not, I have to show up and get the work done.

Your latest exhibition included 70 paintings you did last year in Morocco, Florida, Venice and Cornwall. Nice work if you can get it, some would say...?

I am a plein air painter which means I paint outside in front of the subject. It’s an extremely challenging route for a painter to take, and I love the thrill that coping with the difficulties of working outdoors brings. Of course I have to travel to paint many of my subjects, particularly as much of my work is based around the sea. Although I am visiting gorgeous places in the UK and abroad my working trip certainly isn’t what you’d call a holiday. I paint intensively whilst away on a trip, as many as four or five oil paintings a day. I get up before sunrise and paint until sunset to make the most of the available light, and whatever the weather brings - fog, snow, rain or cold. In the evenings I am then blogging, documenting my work, cleaning my equipment and responding to emails before getting up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again the next day.

What are your professional ambitions?

My overriding aim is just to keep on improving my own work, to keep becoming a better painter. This year I’m going to be bringing out my first DVD with Town House films, and although I regularly write features for The Artist magazine my plan is to get my first book published before too long. There are always exciting events on the horizon! My longest held professional ambition is to be elected a member of the Royal Institute of Oil painters one day. I’ve been working towards that goal since about 1995 and I’m sure I’ll get there.

Where can we see your work?

I will be exhibiting and demonstrating plein air painting at the Patchings festival in June, see www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk for details of the festival.

Many of my paintings can be seen on my website at www.haideejo.com and on my blog which is updated several times each week with all my latest paintings at www.haideejo.blogspot.com

And of course, you might spot me out and about with my easel. If you do, come over and say hello as I’m always happy to chat about what I’m doing.

{For more on Haidee-Jo Sumnmers|http://www.haideejo.com/}

{To read her blog click here|http://www.haideejo.blogspot.co.uk/}