Yvette Hugill – Local Artist

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Wingham-based artist Yvette Hugill is drawn to rural scenes, utilising the immediate environment and bright palette of colours in the Manning Valley for inspiration in her paintings. Yvette tutors privately in pastels and has achieved Master Pastellist status with the Australian Pastel Society.

She also had an article published in the Australian Artist magazine titled, The Delicate Beauty of The Linear Stroke. FOCUS caught up with Yvette to talk about the different influences for her work.

You have previously worked as a Graphic Designer and also a book designer for a leading publishing house in Sydney. Tell us about how these professions led to you establishing yourself as an artist?

The factor determining my path into graphic design was my father’s insistence that we, his children, have a sound career. Fine Arts, although my first choice, didn’t by any means guarantee a steady income! I knew that I wanted to pursue art in some manner or form, but teaching didn’t appeal. My first job, as a book designer, was regimented and demanded long hours, accuracy and deadlines. Those rigours led to extremely tight results artistically. Although I enjoyed my time in publishing and freelancing, my true interest was still in fine arts. I felt the need to loosen up and enjoy the process of my personal creativity.

It was the natural progression of time that gave me the opportunities to study painting and drawing further. The graphic design phase gave me a solid grounding in such things as composition, colour, proportion, life drawing, photography, printing, psychology, art history etc. There were thirteen subjects in the course, seven being practical and six, theory. It was a time when computers weren’t yet in vogue and everything was hands on, including hand-lettering. All illustrations were hand drawn or painted, not computer manipulated.

After leaving Sydney for life in Gunnedah, on the NSW Northwest Slopes and Plains, I freelanced for a number of years and between 1989 – 1991, studied painting and drawing through the Tamworth TAFE campus. I have painted consistently since then. There were many opportunities to exhibit my work through regional and private galleries during this time, and I’ve enjoyed the process immensely.

What is it that you most enjoy about being an artist?

I most enjoy being able to express and capture on paper or canvas, something that has appealed to me because of its aesthetic beauty or has touched me emotionally.

Painting is such a personal experience and when the work is completed and exhibited, it then becomes shared. It’s open for discussion, either good or bad. Hopefully the final work has created interplay between viewers and a response. There’s a sense of permanency when it’s up there on a wall for all to see.

A memory can be recalled by just reviewing the completed work. I’m also very pleased when someone purchases one of my works. It’s so gratifying that they’ve felt a connection. I also enjoy meeting other artists, learning from them and seeing their work.

The local environment provides a continuing inspiration for your work. Where in particular do you most like to create and when you travel, do you always have paint brush and sketch pad at-the-ready (in other words, do you ever ‘switch off’ the artist in you, or is the allure of a landscape simply too appealing to not paint)?

The majority of my work is done in the studio. A lot of it is quite detailed and doesn’t lend itself to plein air painting. I enjoy the solitude of studio work and am happiest when absorbed in a painting that’s going well! Some works are derived from pure chance, and I’ll scribble a quick sketch on any available paper.

Recently, in a doctor’s waiting room, I noticed an exhausted young mother cradling an equally exhausted baby. I rummaged through my bag and surreptitiously did a quick biro sketch. Now, months later, it has become a quirky painting entitled … 2am.

I am constantly drawn to native grasses, their textures and shadows. It’s a recurring visual theme in my work, and I’ve done many paintings depicting this tranquil subject matter. I endeavour to realistically depict the grassy forms, while also creating a slightly ethereal atmosphere. I hope to encourage the viewer to closely scrutinise the brushstrokes and detailed work.

I have a sketchbook on hand when travelling and always my camera! Although photographs are often used for reference, I tend to discard them after the initial idea has been put to canvas or paper. I guess, like most painters, the eye is always roaming in search of new inspiration.

What sort of media do you use in your works?

I use a variety of mediums. I suppose that soft pastels are my preference, but it depends on the result I’m aiming for. Sometimes it just feels ‘right’ that a certain subject needs to be in a particular medium. I love the creaminess of oils and that they take longer to dry, which can be beneficial on large works. In contrast, pastels are a dry medium, therefore easily transported for plein air studies. I also use acrylics, although these are a recent addition to my list of mediums.

I enjoy the fast drying qualities when I want to hold a certain colour and not blend. Being able to quickly work over an area and know that it’s dry underneath can be an advantage. Coloured pencils, ink and charcoal are also enjoyed for different effects and techniques.

I regularly attend life-drawing groups in Wingham and Taree. These are a great way to hone drawing skills and to meet like-minded people. The classes are un-tutored, so allow free expression with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. As most model poses are brief, the immediacy of charcoal is great, enabling speed, while also creating tone.

Your ‘contemporary landscapes’ tend to adopt less detail, instead preferring a ’rounded form’ to depict trees and a scenery. Could you tell us about where your style of painting ‘contemporary landscapes’ came from? 

These particular paintings evolved quite spontaneously a few years ago, after I’d completed a traditional, hilly landscape. I was working on a solo exhibition at the time and decided to do the same scene, using rounded forms. Both works sold and were hung adjacently in the exhibition. It was fun treating the same subject entirely differently. I’m doing more work using this idea for my upcoming exhibition. They seem to make people smile!  I use much brighter colours in the current paintings and exaggerate the landscape.

For my next exhibition, I’ve just completed an acrylic diptych using this technique. The subject is of a valley road, leading to Gloucester. It’s approximately 2 m in width. It will hang next to a more traditionally painted pastel of the same scene. I like to show gallery visitors a variety of styles. I don’t want to be categorised as a painter of one technique or medium. I feel the need of change.

You also enjoy painting figurative works and still life subjects …

Yes. Figurative work is so demanding. Unless the artist is treating the figure abstractly, it has to be proportionally correct. Anyone viewing portraits or paintings of the human form, will immediately criticise when there is an arm or leg that’s proportionally incorrect. I find the process challenging and enjoyable. The human figure is so variable and to be able to portray it in an interesting way is always a bonus.

Still life subjects are a favourite. If there’s a lapse of inspiration or a change of pace is needed … a still life is never far away. As a teaching tool, they’re invaluable in the fact that they ‘don’t move’ and can be set up to please the student’s skill level.

Words to live by? 

Family comes first.

Thanks Yvette. Interview by Karen Farrell.

This story was published in issue 65 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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