Michael York

Michael York

As a new contributor to the September 2024 issue of Leisure Painter, we talk to Micheal York about his artistic journey and discover a dedication like you’ve never heard before.

Can you tell us about your journey as an artist? What inspired you to start painting, and has your artistic style evolved over the years?

 My first recollection of painting is sitting in the front room of our house doing a coloured pencil drawing of some fields, I must have been about eight. The local head master, a keen artist, happened to call in and said he was impressed by my aerial perspective with the distant fields being smaller, I don’t think I knew what he meant at the time. It spurred me on, so my teens, when the same headmaster started some evening classes in the local school, I went along and learned oil painting. I started mainly doing begonias, portraits and copies of pictures. I still have two of the paintings I did some 70 years ago.

 Sadly, school, university and work intervened, so it wasn’t until when I was in my forties I took up oil painting again and went to local evening portrait classes before work again, I was a Broadcast Systems Manager and encountered periods away from home, called a halt to my painting.

 However, when I took early retirement in the early nineties, I again went to an evening class, this time focusing on watercolour painting. The tutor, like me, was a former ‘engineer’ and was very helpful. I also learned from videos and looked at books for lots of advice.

 Around the same time I joined a local art group (sadly now ceased) and it was not long before I became Chairman.  We hosted regular demonstrations and exhibitions and I brought the group into the twentieth century by starting a newsletter and a website. It was one of the demonstrators that got me hooked on Thames Barges! One evening the demonstrator failed to turn up so the group  me to demonstrate instead, I did a Thames Barge of course! This seemed to go down very well so I started doing demonstrations for various groups in  and around the south east.

 I was sitting at home one afternoon when the telephone rang. It was a guy from Cumbria who organises in excess of 100 people to go to Spain every February to do all sorts of activities including painting. It turned out that the regular artist had decided to stop and they were looking for somebody else. It did not take me long to decide to do it and my wife came along as a helper so we had a very good deal indeed.

 I did this for several years and really enjoyed the experience so one day I decided to ring Buckinghamshire Adult Learning to see if they required a watercolour tutor.  Fortunately, they did as one had just left! They asked me to go along for interview the next week when I took along photographs of all the work we had done in Spain. They immediately asked me when could I start?!

 I tutored Adult Learning for a couple of years I decided to go freelance by starting my own group. By a stroke of luck the nearby village was free on the same morning and so the Clementi Art Group was formed. As it happened Artsmart in Beaconsfield were just starting to employ artists so I started working for them as well. The timing was all very fortuitous!

 This continued until Covid struck when for various reasons the work for Artsmart ceased. I continued my own group using Zoom. I rigged up an iPad over my work so everyone could see what I was painting and we continued unceasingly until we were able to meet again in the village hall which is where we are today.

What does painting and the hobby in general mean to you?

 I had a very minor heart attack when I was, seventy, fortunately it did not affect me in any way. However, the next year I picked up a virus (Guillain Baré Syndrome) and was completely paralysed. Luckily it was spotted before it got to my lungs and heart so I am still alive.

 It took me five years of exercises to get back most of the muscles in my body but my right dominant hand and ankles are somewhat weak. My art and other hobbies keep me going. Something is likely to get you at 85 but life goes on!

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What painting techniques and mediums do you enjoy working with the most?

I like watercolours for the wet into wet technique, the dry brush effects and the fluidity of the medium although it can be very trying at times. I also like pen and ink and wash and from time to time I also use pastel pencils - mainly for doing animals as you can replicate the fur to some extent.

 My preferred paints are Winsor and Newton artist’s quality in tubes using a Frisk folding palette for indoor and outdoor use. I prefer to use those marked with a “T” - transparent. I also have a few Daniel Smith tubes.

 My go to brushes are a 1” flat nylon, a number 12 red sable from Rosemary and a few around size 4 imitation sable.

 Currently I am using Bockingford 200lb Rough and NOT.  I like the thicker paper as doing a lot of wet-into-wet and it tends not to cockle too much. I usually paint quarto size for convenience and speed, and tape the paper down with masking tape onto the thick card formerly the back of a large watercolour pad - it is cheaper than a piece of plywood!

art supplies

 I do most of my painting in the art room, come computer room (our third bedroom), where my wife and I both paint. Usually from photographs which I loosely interpret. However, weather permitting we go out with friends and sketch and paint in the locality although the poor weather has severely limited these activities in recent times.

Can you recall any particular triumphs or memorable moments in your art journey?

 Highlights in my career I would say include selling my first picture at my first exhibition, going to Spain to tutor and of course getting an article published in the Leisure Painter at the age of 85! It’s never too late! For anyone starting out I would suggest that they join an adult class, look at books and videos that inspire them and don’t be afraid to join a local group, you certainly won’t be the worst painter there!

Thames Barge

Thames Barge, watercolour, (23x20.5cm)

Follow Michael's demonstration to paint this Thames Barge in watercolour in the September 2024 issue of Leisure Painter.

Don't forget that all subscribers and Studio members have access to digital issues of both Leisure Painter and The Artist going back to the early 2010s with the latest issues added each month.

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