Sam Fenner – Painter

Can you tell us about yourself and your background as an artist/maker?

I am married to Ed, we have 2 teenagers, and I've been a professional artist for the past 10 years. My parents met at Art College and my brother is a Graphic Designer so art is definitely in the genes. I studied General Art & Design and Art History at Hereford Art College and Life Drawing at Worcester School of Art & Design. Before having children I worked at the Morgan Motor Company in Marketing, I was also a member of the Morgan race team and the company translator. As I'm a bit of a petrol-head, a certified speed-freak, daughter and sister to racing drivers, love travelling and speak French, the job ticked all boxes. As most of my family live in France, I needed to create my own job to fit in around looking after the children so I began painting again. I never dreamt I would eventually end up painting mad animal portraits ... but it's all thanks to a commission for a friend, who asked me to paint a huge picture of a cow 'kissing' the canvas ... the mad menagerie began from that very first 'Mad Cow'. I started selling at art markets and events, developed my own online shop and have been very fortunate to secure numerous gallery and shop representations over the years.

A selection of dog commissions over the years

Tell us a bit about your creative process.

I've been told that part of the appeal of my work is how the humorous titles of the paintings compliment the characters in them ... so I have a book of title ideas that I'm always scribbling in, and then it's just a matter of developing the character from the title. Although sometimes I start painting an animal portrait and the title will come to me as the character emerges on the canvas. I paint quite quickly and 'freely', always use acrylics and love painting big canvases which seem to suit my style better. Obviously the size of the canvas determines the length of time it takes me to finish a painting, but it's guaranteed that commissions always take longer than other pieces (more pressure!). During the process of creating a painting, my thoughts usually follow this pattern, in this order: "This is going OK" ... "This is a disaster" ..."I think I've pulled it back" ... "I think it's finished" ... "I wonder if it's good enough?"

Where you do usually work from?

I am very lucky to be able to work from my beautiful garden studio in Worcester, which also doubles up as a little gallery and shop. It's a gorgeous, creative, calming space, and visitors are always very welcome by appointment ... pandemic permitting.
I am naturally quite an organised person, so my space is too ... I find it much easier to paint if my surroundings aren't too cluttered ... tidy studio, tidy mind maybe? Saying that, when I have 3 or 4 big paintings on the go at the same time, my studio isn't as tidy as I would like, and the twitching begins!

Have you developed any unique or unusual techniques in your work?

Not really, although I do have a tendency to blend the paint on the canvas with my fingers, I have sometimes seen little fingerprints in the dried paint on finished pieces, but I suppose they add a certain level of authenticity! I also find it sometimes helps looking at the canvas in a mirror, or even turning it upside down, usually after sketching out, just to see if there are any glaring flaws!

Tell us about a favourite piece of work and what it means to you.

I am a bit sentimental about some of my early works, even though I don't consider them my best works. I suppose it's because they are my 'roots' ... where my journey to becoming a full time artist began. I have a handful of characters from the original 'cast' who still make me smile, and who are still popular in prints and cards; Mad Hare Day, Och Aye The Moo, Chuckle and Wonky Donkey to name a few.
Also, lots of my time is taken up with painting commissions, most of which are dog portraits, and I do have a few favourites among them ... they are usually the old and soppy ones ...

What is your biggest source of inspiration?

My biggest source of inspiration is seeing people's reactions to my work ... (thankfully, the reactions are usually good ones!) and receiving lovely reviews. It's the smiles, chuckles, laughs and tears (happy tears from pet portrait commission customers) which motivate me and give me the confidence to go home and paint more.

What advice would you have for artists who are just starting out?

Ask other artists about pricing ... pricing your work when you first start out is the hardest thing.
Invest in a card reader. I lost a lot of sales early on because I didn't have one (very frustrating), and nowadays hardly anyone deals in cash so a reliable card reader is crucial.
Develop thick skin and don't take yourself too seriously.
And if you are doing markets and events in the winter, take cardboard or an old piece of thick carpet to stand on (I'm lucky I still have toes).

If you sell your work, can you tell us more about how you do this?

Online is the only way to sell at the moment, so I'm lucky that I've already established quite a bit of online presence. I sell via my website,and try to keep on top of self-promotion via facebook and instagram, but it takes up so much time! I sell via a handful of reputable online galleries (the commission is high but the exposure is huge) and I also have my work in physical galleries and shops, most of which are sadly closed at the moment. In normal times, visitors are welcome to visit my studio and buy directly form me, and I also enjoy attending local art markets and events too.

Sam's take on Social Distancing '2 Mootres Apart'

How has lockdown changed your creative process?

I've definitely been less productive during lockdown, mainly due to everyone being at home and the weather being so amazing, but also due to the inevitable increase in anxiety levels that most of us are feeling/have felt over the last few months. Unfortunately in my body at least, anxiety and creativity don't always marry, especially if your creativity hinges on producing humorous paintings! Saying that, I've just finished a lockdown piece, a big canvas of two highland cows, one standing each side of the canvas with a slight expanse between them, entitled '2 mootres apart' take on current social distancing rules. Hopefully it will raise a smile or two.

Tell us about any future projects you have planned.

Lots of summer shows have been postponed until next year and I have a few Christmas markets planned, not sure if they will go ahead but I will keep painting and promoting towards future events. I am currently working on gallery pieces and some lovely dog commissions, and will be designing my 2021 calendar before I know it. I've also been working on a children's book for about a million years which I'm hoping to finish soon!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Well, I would like to be able to share a glass of wine or a cup of coffee with my nearest and dearest, but as that's not possible at the moment I would just like to say that during these surreal times ... be safe, be creative, be kind.

See more of Sam’s work on her Worcestershire Artists page.

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