Tonight’s excellent Friday Feature is with Gail Bennett of Natural Odyssesy, who’s gorgeous hand painted work we just adore. So, on this mostly cold, wet and snowy(!) night, cuddle up somewhere warm and get cosy with our feature artist 🙂
So tell me about where you were born and grew up how you were as a little girl?
I was born in South Wales and spent the first seven years of my life in Barry before we emigrated to South Africa. Life in South Africa was good, with lots of time spent outdoors, especially with a swimming pool in the garden. My dream as a little girl was to become a vet or work with animals in some way, but things didn’t quite work out. Although perhaps that was for the best as I’m quite soft hearted and I think I would’ve found certain parts of being a vet very difficult. I’ve always been a bit of a day dreamer and remember making up little stories, probably influenced by the lovely Beatrix Potter books I loved to read!
Was art something you did a lot of?
I was always drawing and making things as a child. I didn’t do art as a subject in senior school as it wasn’t offered at the school I went to, but I did lots doodling in my school note books and remember getting told off for doodling during lessons. I didn’t have any proper art training until I went to college to study Graphic Design and Illustration. The first year was a foundation year and we did all sorts from ceramics to life drawing and photography, it was great fun once I got over the feeling of being thrown in at the deep end!
Growing up what other trends and hobbies were you into?
Beyond drawing and making things, my head was always in a book. Mostly fiction, but I remember reading the Joy Adamson books (Born Free etc.) at an early age and dreamed of living that type of lifestyle when I grew up. I’ve always been a bit of a collector, finding things and then researching them or where they came from. This is something I still do today, for example I’ve got a lot of different bird feathers that I hope to use for reference in some new paintings.
Do you think you had any early influences like teachers or parents etc?
My Mum did lots of sewing and knitting which she taught me too, I still enjoy knitting but I’m nowhere near as skilled as my Mum is. Although neither of my parents were artists they were still creative in their own ways and always encouraged my creative endeavours. On the teacher front the biggest influence was probably one of my college lectures who helped me to realise I could actually draw the human figure, which is something I really struggled with, it was just a different way of seeing things.
What’s your favourite food and why?
Oh, it has to be Pizza! Specifically, seafood pizza with anchovies.
What time of the year do you love the most?
Top of the list is Autumn … I love the colours and the smells of Autumn, and even the slight chill in the air.
When do you get your best ideas?
My best ideas tend to come when I’m out in the countryside, I don’t very often sketch when I’m out walking, but I always have my camera with me to capture things that interest me and might be useful reference in the future. Late in the evening when I’m winding down can be a good time too and I often get out a sketchbook then to sketch out or jot down ideas.
What are your best skills?
That’s a tough one, the first thing that jumped into my mind is painting hares … so I’ll leave it at that!
Is there anything you do badly?
I must admit to not being very organised, I need to have a list (or lists) to keep on track.
How important do you feel technology, multimedia platforms are to the artwork you produce and sell?
I currently don’t use a computer directly to produce any of my art, but technology does come in when it comes to reference material and promotion. I sometimes use Photoshop to edit reference photos to try out different colours and layouts before starting on a painting. I’m very much reliant on technology in my other guise as a Graphic Designer, although even there my ideas all start on paper!
Are you a shrewd business woman?
No, I don’t think I am. I don’t mind the admin side, but marketing and putting myself and my work out there is something I struggle with – I’m more than happy to sit and paint … but have to constantly remind myself to actually show people what I’m working on.
What’s in store for Gail Bennett next?
I’ve got lots of new ideas and techniques I want to explore, including wearable art and an exploration of some gothic themes. Following on from a recent trip to the Lake District, where I finally saw red squirrels, I’ve done some sketches and am hoping to develop them into paintings soon. There are also plans for an Etsy shop and a website for Natural Odyssey!
Can we expect any Christmas gifts from Natural Odyssey this year?
Well, I’ve been painting some lovely ceramic baubles … although they don’t have to just be for Christmas!
If you had a magic wand what would you wish for?
Oooh I’d love a well-equipped studio in the woods somewhere, with lovely views and lots of wildlife.
Do you have any weird habits or rituals that you can share with the world?
I have to admit that I talk to myself constantly while I work, and I also talk to the creatures in my paintings.
If you could offer advice to another budding artist what would that be?
Practice is one of the most important things you can do … this will help you find your unique creative voice and style. Be confident and be yourself!
You can find Gail and her beautiful work online below: